A Critical Analysis of the Strengths and Limitations of the Responsibility to Protect in the Central African Republic Between 2013-2017
Claudia Broadhead, University of Leeds
Claudia Broadhead graduated from Leeds University in 2018 with a First-Class Honours in English and History of Art. She currently works in Refugee Support at the British Red Cross.
This paper will discuss the material implications of the UN Responsibility to Protect in the Central African Republic (CAR), a country which since March 2013 has seen ongoing internal conflict. The paper concentrates on the international community’s response to mass atrocities in CAR from 2013 until 2017. The evocation of R2P as a response to the situation on the ground in CAR has resulted in consensual intervention by the EU and UN. This essay will focus on three dimensions of the R2P norm: its shift from a Westphalian to a liberal interpretation of sovereignty, its nature as a tool that is ultimately driven by international political will, and the role of R2P to facilitate support between the international community and the state’s governing body. The paper will use these three facets to evaluate the success of R2P in CAR and concludes that the limitations of the UN norm outweigh its strengths as a tool to prevent and protect mass atrocity crimes.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has seen an eruption in renewed violence and ongoing atrocities since March 2013, with its situation further deteriorating from late 2016. In brief, the crisis emerged with the predominantly Muslim rebel group Séléka fighting to overthrow the corrupt Bozizé government, which resulted in the formation and subsequent retaliation by the mostly Christian anti-balaka militias. Both rebel groups, as well as armed forces and civilian mobs have committed mass atrocity crimes (UNSC Resolution 2134, 2014, p.1). The instrumentalisation of religion and ethnicity have been central to the human rights violations, however, it is imperative to emphasize that the crisis is far more complex, and fundamentally propelled by political groundings (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2014). The international community has repeatedly responded to the violence in CAR: France has intervened multiple times since CAR’s independence in 1960, and in April 2014 the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was established as the third UN mission in 20 years (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 7). In 2005, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was endorsed into the World Summit Outcome Document as a global norm, following its introduction as a principle in the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report (ICISS). At the heart of R2P, there are three pillars of responsibility: pillar one stipulates that foremost it is the duty of the state to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing; pillar two indicates that if a state fails, it is the responsibility of the international community to assist; and pillar three specifies that if peaceful means are inadequate and the state is manifestly failing to protecting its population, the international community must take action in a ‘timely and decisive manner’ in accordance with the UN Charter (United Nations General Assembly, 2005, p. 30). The UN Security Council (UNSC) has invoked R2P 18 times concerning CAR since R2P’s adoption in 2005 through UN Resolutions that emphasise the commitment of the international community to resolving the country’s conflict.
This essay will argue that despite ongoing international efforts to protect populations from widespread human rights violations in CAR, the limitations of R2P outweigh its strengths. The argument will develop by looking firstly at how R2P’s reconfiguration of sovereignty gives states the opportunity to discuss and act, but how this universal shift of sovereignty has failed to be effective in CAR. Secondly, once this opportunity to help has been created, R2P is flawed in its dependence on political will; the lack of vested interest in CAR has led to slow missions that fail to address the systematic and root issues of the human rights abuses. Thirdly, once states do commit to investing in the protection of a threatened population, R2P instructs the international community to assist, in the case of CAR, a corrupt and problematic government, and gives unprecedented power to peacekeepers that is poorly monitored and has led to bad practice on the ground.
The impact of R2P’s reconfiguration of sovereignty in CAR
First proposed in the 2001 ICISS report, utmost sovereignty under the first pillar of R2P was redefined as a conditional right reconfiguring Westphalian sovereignty which dictates the absolute right of state leaders to control their own territory, condemning outside interference on all levels (Cohen and Deng, 2016, p. 88). This shift of the notion of sovereignty to a more liberal orientation can be regarded as a key strength of the norm in reference to CAR because it allows states to discuss and act in situations of widespread human rights violations. Although the report emphasised the value of sovereignty, it stipulated that states had a responsibility to protect their populations and under specific circumstances of state failings to do so, the principle of non-intervention could be overruled (Glanville, 2016, p. 160). In CAR, ‘the successive ruling elites and their entourage never demonstrated any sense of responsibility or accountability towards the populations they were meant to administer’ (UNSC, 2015, p. 27). Widespread human rights violations had been occurring in CAR for a prolonged time, and the failure of the state to lead and take responsibility for its population is a well-recognised cause of the conflict (UNSC, 2015, p. 28). The reconceptualization of sovereignty has led to the international community playing a role in efforts to alleviate the heinous conflict. R2P is therefore a progressive concept in that it encourages states to discuss human rights atrocities across the world, reshaping international relations to prioritise populations threatened by mass atrocity crimes. Jennifer Welsh (2013, p. 368) argues that R2P has been a success because it has altered state behaviour to ‘consider a real or imminent crisis’. Although norm cascade theory set out by Finnermore and Sikkink (1998) is problematic in its assertions, it is useful as a starting point because Welsh (2013, p. 379) contends that R2P has passed its emergence, and is now in the phase of ‘cascade’ and ‘diffusion’ whereby sates are beginning to ‘consistently act on the norm’s precepts’. With reference to CAR, this is evidenced by the 18 UN Resolutions that have been invoked since 2005 in response to the crisis. The recalling of resolutions to support the population of CAR demonstrates how the international community is beginning to consult the norm as a method of international responsibility concerning the four crimes. States are therefore beginning to adopt R2P as worldwide diplomatic language which ensures mass atrocity crimes are considered and discussed, leading to supportive and consented state intervention in extreme situations of widespread human rights violations, as seen in CAR.
In contestation, the liberal shift of sovereignty from its traditional sense under R2P threatens the unconditional right of states, surfacing the threat of interference by international actors. The African Union (AU) is formed of states committed to traditional sovereignty meaning the language of R2P has not been widely adopted by the regional organisation; R2P as a universal principle is therefore flawed in its failure to accommodate for the unique states in Africa (Aning and Atuobi, 2011, p. 16). The AU is an essential component of effective multilateral support. However, due to R2P’s insistence on conditional state sovereignty, the AU has failed to appropriately encourage and assist CAR when mass atrocity crimes have occurred, as articulated by pillar II. Regional organisations are a fundamental aspect of translating R2P practically onto the ground, particularly due to the organisation having an understanding of the dynamics and relations in the area they act within (Aning and Okyere, 2016, p. 355). Article 4(g) of the AU Constitutive Act is a non-interference clause, ‘virtually turning R2P on its head by approaching protection from the vantage point of state regimes rather than the potential victims’ (Aning and Okyere, 2016, p. 363). Therefore, R2P’s reconfiguration of sovereignty is limited in the context of CAR in that the non-conformist states have impacted the role of the AU as an assisting organisation in response to the occurrence of the four crimes in CAR. Despite the AU’s authorisation of the deployment of troops to the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA) in July 2013, the operation failed to provide sufficient support to protect CAR’s populations from mass atrocity crimes that have continued to exist (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 13). A 2014 statement by the UN Secretary-General (Ki-Moon, 2014a) asserted that the 3,500 assigned AU troops were not sufficient to implement MISCA’s mandate. We can identify this as a lack of commitment by the AU to intervene in CAR, compromising the strength of R2P as a globalised norm. The UNSG (Ki-Moon, 2011a, p. 3) notes that R2P should ‘respect institutional and cultural difference from region to region’, while advocates of the global norm emphasise the pragmatic step at the heart of R2P in that it is invoked on a ‘case-by-case’ approach. Critiquing this however, we can use Adejo’s (2001, p. 136) analysis to note that due to old norms of absolute sovereignty, non-interference continues to exist within the institutional framework which has allowed state failings to obstruct AU intervention. Despite the deployment of AU troops to MISCA, their effectiveness was poor due to the insufficient size of the group which suggests the AU’s unwillingness to engage fully with R2P, and thus the mission has had very limited success in protecting threatened populations in CAR.
The failure of R2P to protect a country which has little international interest
Despite Welsh’s (2013) nuanced approach that celebrates R2P as a norm that has become integrated into international diplomatic language, close analysis of the impact R2P has had in response to the emergence of the four crimes in CAR reveals several limitations of the norm. Effective international assistance through prevention strategies under pillar II are ultimately dependent on the political will of states, particularly the state interests of the Security Council’s permanent five members (P5) (Hehir, 2015, p. 85). This critique of the global norm can be applied to CAR which has been described as a ‘phantom state’ (International Crisis Group, 2007). Cinq-Mars argues that the lack of exploitable resources in the country and the absence of ‘any meaningful institutional capacity’ has led to CAR being disregarded as a priority by the international community (2015, p. 6). Furthermore, due to the structure of the UNSC and the overriding power of the P5 in international decisions, in practice R2P is a concept whose power is vested in the Security Council (Davies and Bellamy, 2014). Aidan Hehir (2017, p. 335) challenges Welsh’s (2013) support of R2P as an integrated norm, instead asserting that the norm’s ‘impact on the behaviour of states has been limited’. R2P has not shifted state mind-sets because international response is fuelled by state interests whereby manipulation of the norm occurs for selfish means (Kowert and Legro, 1996, p. 493). States are given the ability to intervene; but this can lead to intervention for vested interests, or increased violence on the ground and bad practice of the interveners. The Geneva Peacekeeping Platform, an international centre that links experts with peacebuilding actors and facilitates discussion to drive greater knowledge and understanding of peacekeeping issues, reinforces this in relation to CAR, explaining that one factor of the failed peacebuilding efforts is the ‘overly negative and inherently flawed’ perception of the country (Akasaki et. al, 2015). Cinq-Mars (2015, p. 7) concludes that this view of CAR led to ‘reactive and belated’ responses. ‘Reactive’ demonstrates that with no political desire or ulterior motive, the international community prioritised short-term alleviation over the cost of tackling the root causes of the conflict. ‘Belated’ aligns with Hehir’s argument that R2P is a utopian norm because when states are unwilling to respond in a ‘timely’ manner R2P prevents the successful stabilisation of a failing state (Hehir, 2017, p. 340-41). Cinq-Mars (2015, p. 12) interviewed current and former UN staff who described CAR as a ‘punishment posting’ and ‘parking lot of the UN’, suggesting staff are abandoned there while the UN focuses on more important work. Turnover rates of UN staff in CAR are exceedingly high. The absence of exploitable resources and lack of a strong relationship between CAR and any members of the P5 has ultimately shaped the R2P response which has been inadequate in protecting civilians from mass human rights violations (Hehir, 2015, p. 93). CAR being regarded as a forgotten lost cause allows us to conclude with Hehir’s argument that the efficacy of R2P is ‘heavily dependent on political will, as opposed to legal procedure and judicial oversights’ (Hehir, 2015, p. 93).
The failure of the EU and UN to implement prevention and respond to credible early warnings
The lack of political will of states to fully invest in CAR can be identified by the reported failure of the UN and EU to respond to credible early warning systems and implement effective prevention strategies in CAR, and thus R2P has failed to efficiently protect the country’s population (Bellamy and Lupel, 2015, p. 2). Although atrocity crimes are determined by a multitude of variable factors and conditions making them demanding and strenuous to prevent, prevention strategies including building national resilience, promoting human rights, and adopting targeted preventative measures have been outlined in the UNSG’s 2013 report on prevention and thus enshrined in pillar I and II of R2P (Ki-Moon, 2013). As Simon Adams (2013, p. 1), the Director of the Global Centre for R2P declares, ‘R2P is primarily a preventive doctrine’. Although Hehir (2012, p. 87) argues that the shift of emphasis from intervention in the ICISS report (2001) to prevention in the World Summit Outcome Document (2005) indicates R2P’s failure to impact law, procedure and regulating institutions, it is widely accepted that implementing preventive strategies has resulted in successful aversion from the four crimes (McLoughlin, 2014, p. 414). The UNSG’s 2013 report on prevention noted that early warning mechanisms to alert decision makers to situations that were on the brink of escalation were a vital aspect of atrocity prevention measures (Ki-Moon, 2013, p. 14). With regard to CAR, it was already in April 2013 when public calls were made by XXX for Muslim civilians to be wiped out (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 16) and in August 2017 the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator made a statement that concluded the early warning signs of genocide were visible and action must be taken immediately (O’Brian, 2017). The UN and EU have been heavily criticised for their slow and insufficient response to the rise of widespread human rights violations in CAR (Bellamy and Lupel, 2015, p. 2). The lack of political will to whole heartedly respond to the crisis is a reason for the insufficiency of the international community. Following the December 2013 attacks and warnings of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes, EU ministers agreed in January 2014 to deploy an EU military operation (EUFOR RCA) in CAR (Council of the European Union, 2014). To ensure its rapid operation, EUFOR RCA was approved in UN Resolution 2134 (UNSC Resolution 2134, 2014, p.3). However, three months later, in March 2014, the already delayed EUFOR RCA mission still required another 500 troops for its deployment (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). On the 9th April, a further three weeks later, troops from EUFOR RCA arrived in Bangui and an initial group of 55 begin patrolling (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). Despite the grave warnings of widespread human rights violations from organisations on the ground in CAR, R2P’s lack of legal binding and dependence on political will has meant the UN and EU have been ineffective at translating agreements into practical action. The delay of deployment in the context of the crisis was shockingly high as without an ulterior motive troops were unlikely to be deployed to CAR. The EUFOR RCA mission was initially restricted to a mere six months, and it was centred in the capital of the country with no troops operating in other critically turbulent areas, therefore R2P’s dependence on political will has allowed conflict to intensify and lives to be lost.
The failure of R2P to address the structural underlying causes of instability in CAR
R2P has allowed the international community to provide short-term direct assistance and stabilisation but has failed to address the structural underlying causes of the occurrence of the four crimes. Again, the lack of political will of states to fully invest in CAR that has led to this. This can be illustrated through events in December 2013 where the UN pulled into action following an outbreak of violence, and although further mass killings were initially supressed, the intervention had short-lived preventative benefits but actually intensified inter-communal violence in the long-term (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 15). Early December 2013 saw widespread human rights abuses occur as anti-Balaka militias attacked former Séléka forces in Bangui, killing an estimated 1,000 people in an ethno-religious cleansing mission (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). This was instantaneously followed by the UNSC adoption of Resolution 2127 authorising MISCA and the emergency deployment of French troops to take ‘all necessary measures’ to contribute to the ‘protection of civilians and the restoration of security and public order’ (UNSC Resolution 2127, 2013, p. 7). Unintentionally, international focus to disarm former Séléka rebels placed anti-balaka fighters in a position of superiority resulting in the forced displacement of Muslim civilians by anti-balaka in Bangui and western CAR (Øen, 2014, p. 32). The UN was heavily criticised for its insufficient role in the crisis, once source being the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières who released an open letter to the UN humanitarian system expressing its ‘deep concern about the unacceptable performance’ of UN agencies in CAR (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). The peace missions deployed to CAR were criticised by Cinq-Mars (2015) for lacking the capacity to interrupt violence due to ill-equipped, under-trained and insufficiently supported operations. The structure of R2P as a non-legally binding concept that relies on state responsibility and voluntary assistance has meant that efforts in CAR have been fundamentally reactive, but not thorough investments to address the underlying causes of the conflict. Unfortunately, the international community has intervened in CAR under R2P in a very surface fashion which has lacked capacity, exacerbating violence in some regions and failing to structurally prevent widespread human rights violations due to the absence of addressing the root issues of the conflict.
The role Pillar II has had in supporting CAR’s corrupt government and giving unprecedented power to UN peacekeepers
Transcending beyond political will, even if states do commit to preventing and protecting the population from mass atrocity crimes, pillar II instructs the international community to support CAR’s government, who have been fundamental in fuelling the crisis and have taken part in widespread human rights violations themselves. Pillar II stipulates ‘the international community should as appropriate, encourage and help states to exercise their responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning system’ (United Nations General Assembly, 2005, p. 30). Its aim is to ensure international assistance helps a failing state to build the resilience to protect its population from the four crimes. In the 2009 UNSG report ‘Implementing the Responsibility to Protect’, Ban Ki-Moon claimed that pillar II is an ‘active partnership between the international community and the State’ and broke down the pillar into three categories: encouragement, capacity building, and assisting States (Ki-Moon, 2009, p. 15). Regarding the third dimension, Gallagher highlights how if those in power are the reason for the lack of ‘accountable political institutions, respect for the rule of law and equal access to justice, and mechanisms for the fair and transparent management of economic resources and assets’, then international assistance may legitimise those responsible for the crisis (Gallagher, 2009, p. 1274). Gallagher’s critique can be applied to the CAR case because it is the state who has played a leading role in fuelling conflict and committing human rights violations, and therefore it is controversial and highly problematic that the international community work side by side with CAR’s government. CAR has failed to be effectively governed by legitimate state authority since its independence in 1960. Bozizé, who ruled from 2003 to 2013, controlled a horrifically corrupt government, holding all the power and marginalising the northern and eastern regions of the country (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 6). Ostracising communities outside Bangui led to the rise of anti-government rebel fighters who are legitimately furious (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 6). Furthermore, Louisa Lombard (2014) notes that Bozizé engaged in the politicisation of religion which intensified tensions between religious groups, providing further ground for conflict. However, through the October 2013 UNSC Resolution 2088 and MINUSCA’s attempt to establish a legal framework, we can identify two distinct ways that the UN has assisted and ultimately legitimised a government that has manipulated relations and established hierarchy. Firstly, Resolution 2088 both ‘Urges the Government of the Central African Republic to ensure that freedom of expression and assembly, including for the opposition parties, as well as the rule of law are fully respected’, and ‘Demands that all armed groups cooperate with the Government in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process’ (UNSC Resolution 2088, 2013, p.3). The UN is encouraging CAR’s government to oversee commitment to human rights and law by all groups, and instructing armed groups to actively work with the government, legitimising it as an actor which holds power and control. Secondly, with the support of MINUSCA there has been efforts to re-establish the court system, yet the UNSG emphasises the rebel group individuals convicted, suggesting elite figures in the corrupt CAR state have continued unscathed (Ki-Moon, 2018, p. 7). Rebel armed groups were responsible for 33% of all human rights abuses, yet the national police and State led military are responsible for 25% of violations (Ki-Moon, 2018, p. 9). Furthermore, in April 2014, Russia and China blocked a proposal by the United States and France at the UNSC to impose targeted sanctions against three individuals, including former President Bozizé (Charbonneau and Nichols, 2014). International assistance in the way of establishing courts and prison systems, although fundamental in establishing a democratic and well-governed State, legitimises the mass human rights violations of the State by majoritively condemning the rebel groups. We can therefore critique R2P as a norm that encourages the international community to aid state’s that are key players in the cause of conflict.
Once states commit to supportive military intervention in the form of peacekeeping, which aims to protect populations at risk, R2P provides unprecedented power to peacekeepers and does not enshrine rigid training and monitoring, which has led to power being misused and abused, and ultimately R2P has created opportunities for bad practice on the ground in CAR. Prevention by definition ‘involves a bi-lateral dynamic’ (Hehir 2015, p. 91), but accusations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers has hugely weakened the reputation of the military operations (Arieff, 2014). Hehir’s work on prevention informs us that in the case of CAR the groups planning the attack must be dissuaded by the international community in order for prevention to be successful (2015, p. 91). However, there have been repeated accusations of sexual abuse, many cases involving children, by troops associated with French, AU and UN intervention which has ruptured any sense of trust or working relationships between the armed groups and the peacekeepers. An October 2017 Amnesty International news article reported that UN peacekeepers in Bambari drugged and sexually assaulted a young woman in CAR (Amnesty International News, 2017). The atrocious actions of the UN peacekeeper in this specific case were taken to court and the victim was restored with some form of justice (Amnesty International News, 2017). However, Amnesty (2017) reports that no other allegations of rape involving UN troops, despite the ‘continuous stream of well-documented’ claims, have been criminally investigated. The lack of a strategic framework and rigid monitoring following international assistance and intervention on the ground has allowed peacekeepers to heinously misuse their powerː despite training modules and mobile training teams being used to ensure peacekeepers understand their role in protecting civilians, this is evidently not enough (Ki-Moon, 2014b, p. 17). The UNSG’s 2014 report emphasises ways to identify at risk groups and increase protection capacity for vulnerable women, although this progress is vital, it fails to acknowledge the continuous allegations against peacekeepers themselves and how this can be combatted in the future (Ki-Moon, 2014b, p. 17). The misuse of power by certain troops has been a contributing factor to the failure of the international community to protect CAR’s populations from the four crimes. R2P is thus limited in that it does not ensure rigid training and monitoring of practice on the ground, allowing assault to occur which has jeopardised the success of prevention and restoration missions in CAR.
R2P is advocated for by scholars as a progressive norm that has encouraged conversation about human rights atrocities and has reshaped thought to further prioritise the lives of mass atrocity victims in international relations. However, this article has argued that in the context of the ongoing crisis in CAR, the limitations of R2P outweigh its strengths. There are two key strands of critique that this essay has negotiated, one in reference to the wording of the norm, and another in relation to how R2P is put into practice and interpreted. On one hand, the R2P discourse reconceptualises sovereignty in pillar I and instructs the international community to assist the manifestly failing state in pillar II. These stipulations have meant the African Union has had minimal input in restoring CAR due to its framework tied to legalities of traditional sovereignty. Furthermore, the rest of the international community has been involved in supporting and actively assisting the corrupt CAR government which is criticised for being the catalyst of the entire crisis. On the other hand, the non-legally binding norm has been able to be exploited in its invocation by states and their troops. R2P is dependent on the political will of states to offer their resources and services to protect populations threatened by the four crimes, it is therefore able to be abused in situations of state interest or allied relations which has led to the crisis in CAR being insufficiently responded to by the international community. On a more granular level, the authority that the peacekeepers have has been horrifically misused due to the absence of rigid training and monitoring efforts, which has weakened the opportunity for peacebuilding relations between international troops and local armed groups. Ultimately, R2P creates opportunities for states to help populations threatened by genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, its nature as non-legally binding allows states to act most effectively and efficiently in cases of vested interest, while once states do commit to assist, R2P threatens to further violence and legitimise bad practice.
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