Operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect: The potential for transnational public diplomacy to advance effective, domestic responsibility

Posted on Posted in Current Issue, Featured, Features, Features, Summer 2014: Non-State Actors

By Horacio Trujillo and David Elam

Introduced just twelve years ago, the Responsibility to Protect—the principle that states and the international community have a responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes—has rapidly become one of the most referenced and debated topics in international relations.[i] Since its introduction, the principle has been a central topic of concern regarding events around the world and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and Central and Southeast Asia.

While the Responsibility to Protect was originally formalized under the auspices of actors primarily representing states, especially through the work of the International Commission on Sovereignty and Security (ICISS) and later through efforts of the United Nations (UN), the meteoric rise of the principle as a matter of attention of national governments could not have advanced as it has without the advocacy efforts of civil society actors.[ii] As such, a survey of these efforts to promote the Responsibility to Protect could be a valuable subject of study for students of public diplomacy, particularly a practical examination of the methods by which state and non-state actors alike have worked to raise awareness of the principle among governments, which would stand in contrast to the more theoretical studies of the diffusion of the principle that have been the focus of research to date.

However, instead of looking back at the history of public diplomacy efforts to advance the Responsibility to Protect, we want to take this opportunity to invite scholars of public diplomacy to think about the future of the Responsibility to Protect, and in particular the role that public diplomacy could play in the more timely, effective operationalization of the principle through the extension of the responsibility to national societies and even local communities themselves.[iii]

We suggest that scholars of public diplomacy can make a unique contribution to advancing the operationalization of the Responsibility to Protect on at least two fronts. First, the challenge of continuing to increase, among peoples and states, not only an awareness of the Responsibility to Protect, but also and especially a more careful understanding of the principle is clearly one that falls in the traditional scope of public diplomacy. As an example of this need, much of the controversy over the Responsibility to Protect hinges on a narrow understanding of the principle as only a responsibility of the international community to react to atrocities, rather than an understanding that of equal standing in the principle are “the responsibility to prevent” atrocities and “the responsibility to rebuild” societies that have experienced atrocities. The vast majority of international attention to the Responsibility to Protect also focuses primarily on the third of the three pillars of the principle—that requiring the international community to respond to atrocities—with  less attention given to the first and second pillars of the principle—that each state has primary responsibility for protecting its own populace from atrocities, and that the international community is obligated to provide assistance to states to help them fulfill this primary responsibility of atrocities prevention.[iv] While international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in particular, continue to raise awareness and especially understanding of the Responsibility to Protect, the involvement of public diplomacy experts in this work—to ensure that the principle is more completely and carefully understood—could contribute greatly to these efforts.

Figure 1: The three component principles of The Responsibility to Protect as articulated in the Report of the International Commission on Sovereignty and Security are:

(1) The Responsibility to Prevent

(2) The Responsibility to React

(2) The Responsibility to Rebuild

The three pillars of the Responsibility to Protect identified in the Outcome Document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit (A/RES/60/1, paragraphs 138-140) and formulated in the Secretary-General’s 2009 Report  on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect (A/63/677) are:

(1) The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;

(2) The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;

(3) The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Second, and potentially even more importantly, scholars of public diplomacy could contribute uniquely and critically to advancing the understanding that for the Responsibility to Protect to be effective, it must be operationalized not only at the international, and even more importantly, the national level, but also at sub-national levels by non-state actors as well as governments. As figure 1 shows, while the principle as formulated by the ICISS and the UN assigns responsibility for the protection of populations from atrocities primarily to states (Pillar 1) and secondarily to the international community (Pillar 3), it is increasingly being recognized that for the aspirations of the Responsibility to Protect to be realized—for atrocities to be effectively prevented not just reacted to—this responsibility must be understood by and assumed by sub-national actors and especially non-state actors as well. This includes not just international NGOs, but especially non-state actors that can operationalize the Responsibility to Protect in their own societies, including sub-national governments, local non-governmental organizations, and even communities and individuals themselves. As public diplomacy has evolved from a focus on communications efforts primarily by states to influence foreign audiences as a complement to more traditional diplomacy, to a more comprehensive study of the transnational flow of information and ideas, the process of intercultural communications, and the interaction of private groups in one country with those of another[v]—new insights from the field promise much in terms of lessons for how to advance this understanding of the critical role that non-state actors need to play in the operationalization of the Responsibility to Protect as a complement to national and international efforts.

Operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect: The Need for Expanded Responsibility

As introduced above, civil society has played a leading role in efforts to diffuse the Responsibility to Protect and promote states’ recognition of the principle as an operational norm, individually and through multilateral organizations. Notably, however, in spite of this central role of NGOs in diffusing the principle, the focus of these efforts has continued to be states, both as the primary targets for NGOs’ public diplomacy and as the actors responsible for operationalizing the principle. While states, of course, should be primarily responsible for the security of their citizens as a condition of their sovereignty, as elaborated by the Responsibility to Protect, the international community ought to serve a subsidiary role in guaranteeing this security as a protection of universal human rights. Meaningful operationalization of the principle will require the participation of actors other than states,[vi] and public diplomacy can play a critical role in advancing this understanding of the need for expanded responsibility and even more so for mobilizing non-state actors’ assumption of this expanded responsibility.

Why is this so? First, we suggest that for the Responsibility to Protect to be truly operationalized, it needs to be internalized by the nations of the world into their domestic laws and policies. This objective is essential to the full realization of Pillar 1 of the principle—each state’s assumption of the responsibility to protect its own population. However, because of the highly contested character of the Responsibility to Protect, we suggest that the process by which the principle will be internalized in countries throughout the world will not necessarily follow a path from interaction to incorporation to internalization, such as outlined by Koh in his discussion of the enforcement of human rights law.[vii]

Instead, we suggest that because of the sensitivity of some states to the guidance of the principle, especially regarding the “responsibility to react” and Pillar 3 on the subsidiary responsibility of the international community, these states are likely to be more slow to incorporate into domestic law and policy the precepts of the responsibility to protect as a result of their interaction with other states.  Instead, we suggest, there is more promise for states to incorporate precepts of the Responsibility to Protect into domestic law and policy as a result of their populations’ internalization of the principle due to the influence of transnational transmission of ideas and values.

Second, we suggest that for the principle to be meaningfully operationalized to effectively prevent threats to populations, such populations themselves have to be enabled to recognize, mitigate, and respond to security risks. In spite of this potential, and even arguably critical importance of non-state actors to the full operationalization of the Responsibility to Protect, there has been relatively little focus on interpreting guidance for non-state actors, including sub-national governments, to operationalize the principle. Again, we suggest that there is a critical need and opportunity for greater and more effective public diplomacy to advance this goal of non-state operationalization of the Responsibility to Protect, especially as non-state actors themselves are likely to be most effective at influencing non-state actors in other societies to take on a direct role in operationalizing the principle.

Notably, the importance of non-state actors to the operationalization of the Responsibility to Protect is beginning to be recognized. For example, speaking in May 2012 at the Conference on Regional Capacity to Protect, Prevent and Respond: United Nations-Asia Pacific Strategy and Coordination in Bangkok, Thailand, then-Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect Edward Luck made this understanding clear:

The UN’s role in a normative sense is unique because of its universality. But in an operational sense it always looks for partners in regional and sub-regional arrangements. We also should not forget the idea of the individual responsibility to protect. The Responsibility to Protect is not something only for governments and it is certainly not only something for international and regional bodies. Individuals have responsibility and individuals can make a difference…Civil society is enormously important, as are partnerships with national institutions, public-private partnerships, and legislative partnerships. (emphasis added)[viii]

In a separate discussion in 2011, Luck commented on the role of civil society in advancing the Responsibility to Protect in a manner that speaks to the increasing focus of public diplomacy on the transnational flow of information and ideas, the process of intercultural communications and the interaction of private groups and interests in one country with those of another, “[W]e very much expect that civil society—we’re seeing this around the world—we will continue to be very, very interested in working with us…[T]hat there will be more trans-regional learning processes, comparing notes from different parts of the world about what works and doesn’t work and new ideas that might be adopted in different places.”[ix]

Non-State Actors’ Role in the Internalization of the Responsibility to Protect

Non-state actors can play two critical roles in the advancement and extension of the Responsibility to Protect—first, to promote internalization of the principle within countries, and second, to develop sub-national capacity to prevent, react, and rebuild. In each of these roles, public diplomacy expertise is crucial to facilitating communication and interaction that emphasizes society’s role in implementing the Responsibility to Protect itself.

In 2011, in response to being asked, “Where do you see the Responsibility to Protect in five year’s time?” Edward Luck specifically identified the aspiration of increasing internalization of the principle into the domestic policy of states around the world, “…[W]e hope that states around the world will absorb this into the way they think of their own responsibilities, into their legislation, into their educational curriculum, into their media; that it becomes really part of the way people think about the state and the state’s relationship to its people and its responsibilities to its people.” [x]  In his reply, Luck continued to specifically point out the critical role of civil society in helping to realize this aspiration.

Complementing Luck’s perspective, Noel M. Morada, in his chapter in Jared Genser and Irwin Cotler’s  The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Time, specifically calls out the requirement that any such internalization will depend on the emergence of domestic constituencies within states to champion the principle: “The internalization of RtoP…must be anchored in constituency-building, particularly at the domestic level. Without strong advocates or ‘champions’ of RtoP from within, states may just be content with just having signed international documents or agreements committing themselves to the norm.”[xi] In this sense, the role for domestic constituencies and other non-state actors is to prevent states from circumventing the Responsibility to Protect through lip service to the principle.

Continuing his discussion, Morada examines the needs for internalization in a manner that alludes to the value that public diplomacy can lend to this effort—not only in building awareness of the Responsibility to Protect, but also in increasing understanding of the importance of the principle and of the principle itself: “…Building awareness about the importance of preventing genocide and mass atrocities is one key objective of domestic constituency-building. Currently, there is a very low level of public awareness about RtoP in all countries of Southeast Asia. For those who have heard of the principle, they have some misconceptions about its scope and perceive it to be mainly about military intervention.

And while Morada refers only to Southeast Asia, others, such as Bamberger et al, in The Responsibility to Protect: Moving the Campaign forward, note that awareness of the principle, and particularly understanding of the principle, remains low among Western nations’ populations, policymakers, and international NGOs.[xii]

Importantly, Morada reflects on the role of non-state actors in efforts to raise awareness and, again, particularly understanding of the principle among the public and policymakers to foster internalization. Of specific concern to Morada are two different types of civil society actors—non-governmental organizations and the media

…Civil society groups…are also potential RtoP champions in the domestic sphere. Specifically, they could incorporate RtoP in their advocacy framework that could enable them to actively engage the state or government in enhancing the role of law, promote protection of civilians in conflict areas, prevent or contain extrajudicial killings, and pursue inter-faith or inter-civilization dialogue, among others. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that also campaign for ratification of international treaties… [could] lobby for passage of domestic laws that enhance the protection of human rights and punishment of crimes covered by RtoP. At the community level, NGOs involved in conflict prevention and peace-building could also play a critical role in developing early warning and response systems, in partnership with local government and law enforcement agencies, that can contribute to building state capacity in preventing genocide and mass atrocities.[xiii]

Notably, Morada moves from a discussion of civil society’s role in internalizing the Responsibility to Protect into domestic law and policy to a discussion of how these groups can be active agents in operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect within their societies.

In addition, when it comes to the media, while Morada identifies journalism as another key player in promoting awareness of and thus advancing the internalization of the Responsibility to Protect, he similarly moves on to identify how the media can could play a critical role in operationalizing the principle with other non-state and sub-national actors:

The media has a direct role in increasing public awareness about human rights violations and crimes against humanity…To some extent, the media could potentially contribute to developing an early warning and response system as journalists can alert law enforcement, local or national government agencies, and civil society groups in conflict areas about violence taking place that could escalate into a crisis situation.[xiv]

However, he cautions, this role will be limited until more journalists are themselves aware of and better versed in the principle. This is a call to scholars of public diplomacy to consider more carefully both the role that journalism might play in operationalization and how the Responsibility to Protect might be better communicated to journalists.

Morada’s comments on civil society and media illustrate how the role of non-state actors in the advancement of the Responsibility to Protect can be thought of as advancing along two overlapping tracks: internalization and operationalization. With the ultimate goal of engaging all critical sectors of a society—national government, local government, civil society, media, and others—to operationalize a people-centered national security framework, we must explore the role that non-state actors can play in prevention, protection, and rebuilding. Public diplomacy scholars can play a critical role in this undertaking.

Examples from Civil Society

Examples of non-state actors’ engagement in operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect are emerging—both as the agents of operationalization as well as transmitters of this expectation of non-state operationalization. Looking at these leading efforts by civil societies to operationalize the Responsibility to Protect provides an opportunity to illustrate the potential role for public diplomacy to diffuse the principle into the fabric of societies.

One recent example comes from Kenya, where civil society actors worked concertedly in 2012 and 2013 to engage the broad population of the country in the prevention of mass violence during the 2013 national elections, similar to that which surrounded the 2007 elections. Through a variety of efforts, from grassroots community mediation programs to nationwide efforts to use information and communication technology (ICT) to monitor electoral irregularities and report efforts to accommodate them, civil society groups engaged members of Kenyan society to develop shared expectations and motivation to act to maintain social order to prevent violence.[xv] One example of an innovative public diplomacy effort is the use of PeaceTXT, an initiative that employed SMS to relay carefully crafted messages to communities to promote non-violence. Another intervention employed mobile and Internet technologies to collect and report incidents of violence, as well as counter misinformation and hate speech. These efforts point to a potential role not only for public diplomacy, but innovative technology-enabled public diplomacy for socializing the principle of the Responsibility to Protect in local communities. More clearly, work on violence prevention by local communities in Kenya lends credence to the argument that a locally internalized and operationalized conception of the Responsibility to Protect is imminently achievable.

Another emergent example can be seen in Rwanda, where a collective of international and local NGOs is engaged in a nationwide “peace education program” to impart to the population, and particularly younger persons in the community, a sense of individual and collective responsibility for preventing not only another genocide, but even the precursors to genocide, such as discrimination and social exclusion. This program consists of a combination of a school-based educational curriculum, radio dramas, community forums and debates, and a mobile exhibition of material from the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum, all employed for the purpose of countering harmful beliefs, such as discriminatory stereotypes, and promoting greater awareness of positive behaviors and their benefits, such as critical thinking about social relations and inter-personal conflict resolution techniques. While still early on, the Rwanda peace education program is an example of both the myriad shapes that efforts to impart individual- and community-level Responsibility to Protect can take, as well as the opportunity for scholars of public diplomacy to think about how to inform these efforts and innovate with them to increase their effectiveness.

The above examples suggest the viability of internalizing and operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect in local communities, as well as highlight the important role of public diplomacy in socializing conceptions of the principle.

CONCLUSION

Though most discussions on the Responsibility to Protect focus on international response, there is a growing awareness that communities should be empowered to contribute to their own protection.[xvi] In his comments at the 2012 Conference on Regional Capacity to Protect, Prevent and Respond, Luck said of civil society groups: “They can be whistle-blowers; they can say no to incitement and incendiary rhetoric or targeting of certain groups within societies; they can influence political decisions by their governments; and, very importantly, those who might be victims often have options for self-protection.”[xvii] Breakey et al build on this last suggestion in particular, noting that communities and individuals can engage with sub-national and other non-state actors in early warning, monitoring, mediation, training, education, and identifying lessons for protection, and aiding, advising, and informing the work of external protection actors. [xviii] [xix] Importantly, Breakey et al emphasize community-led prevention and protection capacity, noting that some international efforts can actually undercut local protection efforts.[xx]

In short, non-state actors must play an increasingly important role to fully realize the potential of the Responsibilty to Protect. This role will include engagement of national and local governments, civil society, media, and other actors to manifest a people-centered national security framework in every nation throughout the world. Insights from public diplomacy can be critical in helping these efforts to internalize and operationalize the Responsibility to Protect to be successful.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

[i] Drawing on the literature on international regimes, we refer to the Responsibility to Protect as a “principle” in that it is a concept at times appealed to by various actors to guide or justify state behavior. Borrowing from Krasner’s definition of international regimes as “implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations” as a guide, we find this definition more useful than referring to the Responsibility to Protect as a “norm” or “emerging norm,” as it is still to be established that the Responsibility to Protect itself influences nation-states to behave differently than they otherwise would, particularly with regularity, or that it has altered the expectations of routine state behavior beyond what can be attributed to the Responsibility to Protect as a principle. For more discussion on the classification of the Responsibility to Protect as a concept, principle or norm, see Jeremy Sarkin, “Why the Responsibility to Protect as a Doctrine or (Emerging) Norm to Prevent Genocide and Other Massive Human Rights Violations is on the Decline: The Role of Principles, Pragmatism and the Shifting Patterns of International Relations” in Politorbis 47, February 2009.

[ii] On the role of civil society in the promotion of the Responsibility to Protect see Doris Mpoumou, “The Role of Civil Society in Advancing the Responsibility to Protect,” presented at the Conference on Early Warning for Protection: Technologies and Practices for the Prevention of Mass Atrocity Crimes held November 3-4, 2010 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Bamberger et al, The Responsibility to Protect: Moving the Campaign Forward, University of California Berkeley Human Rights Center, 2007. For concise histories and official records of the Responsibility to Protect, see The R2P Coalition, “History and Timeline of the Responsibility to Protect,” Web. February 2014, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, “An Introduction to the Responsibility to Protect.” Web. February 2014, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, “About the Responsibility to Protect.” Web. February 2014, and the website of the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. Web. February 2014.

[iii] While public diplomacy is defined variously by different actors, we consider public diplomacy to be an activity engaged in not only by states but also by non-state actors, and not only for the purposes of influencing states but also influencing non-state actors. In this fashion, we eschew many other definitions and look to the description of public diplomacy presented in one of the earlier brochures of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy (with emphasis added): “Public diplomacy…deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. It encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy; the cultivation by governments of public opinion in other countries; the interaction of private groups and interests in one country with another; the reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy; communication between those whose job is communication, as diplomats and foreign correspondents; and the process of intercultural communications.” Web. February 2014.

[iv] Speaking in May 2012 at the Conference on Regional Capacity to Protect, Prevent and Respond: UN-Asia Pacific Strategy and Coordination in Bangkok, Thailand, then-Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck noted that 90% of the journal articles on the Responsibility to Protect focused only on the use of coercive force.

[v] For example, Crocker Snow Jr., Acting Director Edward R. Murrow Center in 2005, commented in May of that year, “Public diplomacy that traditionally represents actions of governments to influence overseas publics within the foreign policy process has expanded today—by accident and design—beyond the realm of governments to include the media, multinational corporations, NGO’s and faith-based organizations as active participants in the field.” Snow’s and others’ comments on the definition and boundaries of public diplomacy are featured on the website of the PDAA, pdaa.publicdiplomacy.org, accessed in February 2014.

[vi] See Kathleen Renée Cronin-Furman, “60 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Towards an Individual Responsibility to Protect,” American University International Law Review 25, no.1, 2009. 175-198, on both the Responsibility to Protect as an extension of universal human rights and on the demands for an “individual responsibility to protect.”

[vii] See Harold Hongju Koh’s Addison C. Harris Lecture, “How Is International Human Rights Law Enforced?” delivered January 21,1998, and published in the Indiana Law Journal, 74:4 (Fall 1999), Article 9, 1397-1417.

[viii] Edward Luck, Keynote Address at the Conference on Regional Capacity to Protect, Prevent and Respond: UN-Asia Pacific Strategy and Coordination in Bangkok, Thailand, in May 2012.

[ix] UN News Centre, “Interview with Edward Luck, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General,” August 1, 2011. Web. Feburary 2014.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Neil M. Morada, “Asia and the Pacific,” in Jared Genser and Irwin Cotler (editors), The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Time, Oxford: New York, 2012, 154.

[xii] Bamberger et al, The Responsibility to Protect: Moving the Campaign Forward, University of California Berkeley Human Rights Center, 2007.

[xiii] Morada, op. cit., 154.

[xiv] Morada, op. cit., 154-155.

[xv] Horacio R. Trujillo, et al, “The Role of Information and Communication Technology in Preventing Election-Related Violence in Kenya, 2013,” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 13, 2014, 111-128.

[xvi] Hugh Breakey et al, Enhancing Protection Capacity: Policy Guide to the Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, Griffith University / Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, 2012.

[xvii] Luck, op. cit.

[xviii] Breakey et al, op. cit., 78.

[xix] For examples of the role of non-state actors in operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect, see Alexandra, “Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect in Indonesia: an update,” Hawksley and Georgeou, “the Responsibility to Protect Ideas in Brief Pillar II in Practice Police Capacity building in Oceania,” and Trujillo et al., “The Role of Information and Communication Technology in Preventing Election-Related Violence in Kenya, 2013.”

[xx] Ibid, 79.

Horacio Trujillo 

Horacio Trujillo regularly researches, writes, teaches, and advises on human security issues. He currently serves as a Senior Advisor to Aegis Trust, one of the leading international nongovernmental organizations working to prevent atrocities worldwide, and teaches at Occidental College, where he developed courses of study on human security, international political economy, and international policy analysis. Previously, Trujillo served as the Director of Research of Humanity United as a member of the executive team that launched the human security-focused philanthropy.

David Elam

David Elam is an MA candidate at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where his work focuses on strategic studies and international economics. His previous writing has addressed topics ranging from electoral violence and harmful traditional practices affecting women in Ethiopia to microfinance, youth employment, and sustainable global supply chains. Elam is a graduate of Occidental College’s Diplomacy and World Affairs program and a teaching assistant in economic development and macroeconomics at SAIS.

 

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