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Update from the ICRtoP: recent developments on the Responsibility to Protect at the United Nations (December 2017)

by Brittany Roser, Communications and Outreach Associate, International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. The ICRtoP secretariat is based at the WFM-IGP office in New York.

On 6 September 2017, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened the ninth annual informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), where Member States, panelists, and civil society organizations shared statements on RtoP and the recent report by the Secretary-General on the implementation of the norm through the strengthening of accountability for prevention.

The following day, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), the Stanley Foundation, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stithung partnered to hold a breakfast meeting for participants to reflect on observed developments from the dialogue, share recommendations, and discuss opportunities in an informal, not-for-attribution setting. Participants from 15 civil society organizations, representing all regions of the world, met for discussions with the United Nations (UN) Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Ivan Šimonović.

Participants focused on three important reflections from the dialogue: 1) space for civil society participation in the dialogue has been improved due to procedural changes in the format of the dialogue, which allowed greater opportunity for civil society voices to be heard; 2) there is concern about a noted trend towards a polarization in Member States’ views on RtoP, especially regarding the resulting effect on advocacy opportunities on behalf of support for the norm; 3) the new and innovative ways of discussing RtoP, particularly through the thematic focus on accountability for prevention, are encouraging for the advancement of the norm.

The resulting recommendations focused on ensuring that attention is given to the importance of related thematic areas, such as the incorporation of a gender lens in atrocity prevention, and propositions on how to support RtoP by developing tools within the existing framework. This includes adding atrocity prevention within the Universal Periodic Review process in the UN Human Rights Council and including RtoP on the UNGA’s formal agenda. Lastly, participants put forth
recommendations on how to mobilize the implementation of the norm through strengthening available legal tools for atrocity prevention, such as which led to the formalization of RtoP on the UNGA’s agenda for the current session.

The inclusion of RtoP on the formal agenda is an important step forward, particularly for both the mainstreaming of the norm throughout the UN system and the domestication of the norm at the regional and national levels. By including the RtoP as a formal agenda item, the UN could be required to report on the implementation of the norm. Also, it will require Member States to develop and produce formal, on-the record statements on RtoP, which will likely lead to greater direct input from capitals. This should increase the discussion on atrocity prevention outside the UN framework and bring RtoP to focus in regional and national contexts. It also demonstrates a commitment by many Member States and an acknowledgement of the prioritization of the protection of populations from atrocity crimes, particularly in a time of frequent gridlock in the Security Council.

The UNGA and RtoP in 2018 and beyond

The ICRtoP has already begun bilateral discussions with Member States, UN representatives, and civil society organizations to start strategizing on how to capitalize on the momentum gained in 2017, with the aim of institutionalizing RtoP permanently on the UNGA formal agenda, in line with the recommendations of the Secretary-General and the 2005 World Summit outcome document. The ICRtoP would also like to see the continuation of the annual UNGA dialogue on RtoP and the preparatory panels informing the writing of the Secretary-General’s annual report on the norm.

Furthermore, it is vital that civil society continues to play a role in every step of this process, including through participation in the upcoming discussions throughout the UNGA’s 72nd session and beyond. The ICRtoP strongly encourages the UN and Member States to acknowledge the crucial role of civil society in the advancement of RtoP and the prevention of atrocities, especially in early warning and early response and the promotion of accountability.

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