International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute, and Palliate (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights)

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9780812247374: International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute, and Palliate (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights)

Since the end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations, genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes—mass atrocities—have been explicitly illegal. When such crimes are committed, the international community has an obligation to respond: the human rights of the victims outweigh the sovereignty claims of states that engage in or allow such human rights violations. This obligation has come to be known as the responsibility to protect. Yet, parallel to this responsibility, two other related responsibilities have developed: to prosecute those responsible for the crimes, and to provide humanitarian relief to the victims—what the author calls the responsibility to palliate. Even though this rhetoric of protecting those in need is well used by the international community, its application in practice has been erratic at best.

In International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa, Kurt Mills develops a typology of responses to mass atrocities, investigates the limitations of these responses, and calls for such responses to be implemented in a more timely and thoughtful manner. Mills considers four cases of international responses to mass atrocities—in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Darfur—putting the cases into historical context and analyzing them according to the typology, showing how the responses interact. Although all are intended to address human suffering, they are very different types of actions and accomplish different things, over different timescales, on different orders of magnitude, and by very different types of actors. But the critical question is whether they accomplish their objectives in a mutually supportive way—and what the trade-offs in using one or more of these responses may be. By expanding the understanding of international responsibilities, Mills provides critical analysis of the possibilities for the international community to respond to humanitarian crises.

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About the Author:

Kurt Mills is Senior Lecturer in International Human Rights in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Responding to Mass Atrocities

The core concern of this book is how have, can, and should mass atrocities be addressed? It is thus historical, analytical, and normative. It is historical because it examines how the international community responded to four cases of mass atrocities, although three of these situations are, in one way or another, still ongoing. It is analytical in that it provides a typology of the different types of responses and how these responses interact. It is normative because it begins with the underlying assumption that the international community should "do something" about mass atrocity situations, and that the "somethings"—military intervention to stop atrocities, holding individuals criminally responsible for atrocities, and providing basic assistance to help people survive the broader effects of mass atrocities—are all important developments and may all be appropriate, although perhaps appropriate in different ways and circumstances.

The first response—the use of military force to protect civilians and stop atrocities—is a core part of what has come to be known as the responsibility to protect (R2P). It follows from previous debates over humanitarian intervention, but is a reflection of a radical shift in the perceived balance between sovereignty and human rights. The second response I call the responsibility to prosecute, since it stems from an expanding recognition that those who commit atrocities should be punished. The third response I call the responsibility to palliate, because although there are significant humanitarian urges to help people in the middle of conflict, this particular response usually can do little more than treat the symptoms of a much more complicated situation. Taken together, these three sets of norms and practices are identified as R2P3—responsibility to protect, prosecute, and palliate). These responses, even though they are all rooted in an urge to stop human suffering, are very different types of actions. They accomplish very different things, over different timescales, and on different orders of magnitude, and are accomplished by very different types of actors. But the big question is whether they accomplish these different things in a mutually supporting way, where all the elements of the broad human rights edifice work seamlessly together to underpin this edifice. It will be obvious that the answer to this question is that there may be very significant trade-offs in using these responses—political trade-offs, practical trade-offs, normative trade-offs—and that they may not always be mutually supporting.

Policymakers are thus faced with a series of conundrums as they try to figure out how to protect people and keep them alive in the midst of conflict, while also preventing and ending conflicts and bringing perpetrators to justice. Military intervention might facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance—or it might endanger it. Issuing an arrest warrant might bring combatants to the negotiating table—or it might undermine a peace process. Providing humanitarian assistance might keep people alive in the midst of conflict—or it might contribute to the continuation of the conflict. Yet the international community has agreed that it has a responsibility to do each of these things to protect people and end suffering. So how does one prioritize responsibilities? This book provides no easy formula—the dynamics are fiendishly complex. However, by clearly delineating these manifold conundrums, and exploring how they play out in a variety of circumstances, the job of implementing these international responsibilities and stopping mass atrocities becomes a little clearer.

Defining Atrocities

The term mass atrocities is not unproblematic, given that language is employed to support action, prevent action, or cover up inaction in the face of widespread grave human rights abuses. I use the term "mass atrocity" here to include genocide, crimes against humanity, some war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. Genocide appears to have the most straightforward definition—"acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group," although the devil is in the detail, and in particular the assertion of the intent. Crimes against humanity are defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as including murder, extermination, forcible transfer of populations, torture, rape and a number of other acts undertaken in attacks against civilian populations (Article 7).

War crimes may be understood as serious violations of international humanitarian law directed at civilians or enemy combatants during an international or internal armed conflict, for which the perpetrators may be held criminally liable on an individual basis.

Ethnic cleansing has been defined as "a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas." Although there is no recognized crime of ethnic cleansing, it is against international law and would involve grave breaches of international humanitarian law, as well as potentially genocide and crimes against humanity.

The term mass atrocity is preferred for its simplicity in avoiding having to write out "genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing," although there will be instances where one must be specific about the crimes being discussed to communicate the magnitude of the crimes and the interests of humanity in responding. As to a formal definition, I draw on the definition used by the Mass Atrocity Response Operations project: "widespread and systematic use of violence by state or non-state armed groups against non-combatants." On the one hand, it elides the use of the emotive term "genocide," which cries out "never again" and demands action—that "somebody" should do "something"—and thus will be controversial. It appears to undermine gravity and immediacy. Yet all too often scholars, journalists, and diplomats get caught up in language that obfuscates rather than illuminates a situation. In Rwanda, western leaders fell over themselves with awkward linguistic constructions to avoid calling what was happening genocide—referring instead to "acts of genocide"—while in Darfur, there was much discussion about whether to call what was happening genocide or crimes against humanity. But in the end it did not matter whether President Bashir of Sudan or the Hutu leadership in Rwanda could be positively identified as having the intent to wipe out a specific group of people. The same people were dying—even though such language may be strategically deployed at times, I doubt that the victims or their families cared what those on the UN Security Council called it. Thus, mass atrocities will be used as an analytic category to indicate situations where large numbers of people are dying or otherwise being widely affected as a result of genocide, crimes against humanity, widespread war crimes, or ethnic cleansing. "Mass atrocities and associated humanitarian crises" may also be used to signal a recognition that most humanitarian crises are political in nature and tied into larger patterns of human rights abuse.

Conflict in Africa

The international responsibilities in mass atrocity situations discussed above are embedded within evolving political, geostrategic and normative realities. Globally, human rights norms and machinery are expanding and spreading, although ambiguously. The UN Security Council has become increasingly involved in human rights issues even as there is increasing tension between the traditional powers on the Security Council and a restive developing world, with emerging powers demanding more representation at the apex of global power, bolstered, again, by charges of neocolonialism. The responsibility to protect has been affected by the same charges, but there is hardly unanimity. Other global developments, such as the ICC, further underpin an expanding institutionalization of human rights, even as there is pushback against its focus to date on Africa and its problematic relationship to the Security Council. But Africa also serves as a stage for the post-9/11 global war on terror and the belief "that 'failed states' are ideal staging and breeding grounds for international terrorists."

Africa has seen both advances and retreats in normative and practical human rights developments. The African Union (AU) Constitutive Act recognized an even more robust responsibility to protect three years before the UN did, although it has failed to implement this in any significant way. The responsibility to protect has found its voice in the norm of "non-indifference" in Africa, but exactly how such a double negative normative construction will be implemented is unclear. Thirty-four African countries are members of the ICC, yet the AU has repeatedly accused the ICC of being biased against Africa and called for it to suspend ongoing cases against Africans. Africa has high hopes for an African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the development of an African Standby Force (ASF), but implementation has lagged far behind the hopes. And although the AU can present a public united front, there are still divisions among African countries and, at times, a reversion to Westphalian notions of sovereignty and anticolonialism that serve to prevent criticism of human rights abuses. Africa wants a larger say in global politics, demanding, for example, more seats on the Security Council, and a more even partnership between the AU and UN.

Africa was chosen as the focus of this book for a number of reasons. From a continental perspective, Africa has been the crucible for much normative development and practical application of norms. The genocide in Rwanda was one of the driving forces for the development of the responsibility to protect, but was also the site of one of the precursors to the development of the ICC. All the prosecutions by the ICC to date have taken place in Africa. The practice of humanitarianism has been significantly affected by experiences in not only Rwanda, but also Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere. Furthermore, except for Europe, Africa has been the region that has developed most substantially in the area of peacekeeping activities, although even those developments have fallen significantly short at times. Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among others, have been the site of significant innovations and failures in the practical application of peacekeeping.

As to why these four countries—Rwanda, DRC, Uganda, and Sudan (Darfur)—the answer is many-faceted. Geographically, they are contiguous, with the DRC and Uganda bordering all three other countries, and Rwanda and Sudan having common borders with two of the others. They all have colonial histories that have significantly affected their modern development, although the experiences and legacies are different, with Sudan and Uganda having experienced British colonialism and the DRC and Rwanda having a Belgian legacy (with resulting French influence). Central and East Africa have been the focus of widespread gross violations of human rights since the end of the Cold War. Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), DRC/Zaire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda have all seen a mixture of significant civil conflict, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, as well as significant humanitarian catastrophes. The conflicts have spread across borders and in many instances become interrelated, affecting neighboring countries like the CAR, Chad, and Tanzania. The conflict focused on the Rwanda-Congo-broader Great Lakes nexus has witnessed untold human suffering and devastation and has pulled in an even wider array of participants. The northeastern corner of the DRC, which borders Rwanda, Uganda, and Sudan, perhaps exemplifies the multinational, multi-actor, interrelated nature of conflict in Africa today.These four countries have each had their own internal conflicts, which have become internationalized as refugees and combatants flow unimpeded across borders, bringing their fighting and suffering to new countries and populations.

Kevin Dunn argues that Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has created a cross-border "insecurity complex . . . . transform[ing] a microregional conflict into a macroregional zone of insecurity." One could expand this further to say that multiple dynamics have contributed to a regional insecurity complex that involves a dizzying array of state and nonstate actors and transcends sovereign boundaries even as those boundaries play a significant role in structuring multiple conflicts and widespread political and human insecurity. As will be seen, the Rwandan genocide and lack of international response led directly and inexorably to two decades of war in eastern DRC, millions dead, and the intervention of around a dozen countries, even as internal Zairean/Congolese dynamics proved fertile breeding ground for conflict. The spread of the LRA beyond Uganda pulled Uganda into the DRC and southern Sudan, as well as the CAR. Uganda was also the staging ground for the Tutsi invasion of Rwanda that ended the genocide. Sudan endured civil war for two decades—and used the LRA as part of its war against the south—before a relative peace was established and a new country was born in South Sudan. But it was the conflict in Darfur—in the western part of the country—that brought issues related to the responsibility to protect and international criminal justice to the fore, posing some of the first real tests for both R2P and the ICC—and the AU.

The conflicts are directly related, but they have all served, in a sense, as part of an African proving ground for the global responsibilities and responses at the core of this book. The international community has dealt with these conflicts in varying ways, which perhaps reflects partly the particular internal and regional dynamics of the conflicts, but also the broader geopolitical perspectives and interests of the main global powers. The response has ranged from apathy to a range of innovative, but not necessarily completely satisfying, actions. Rwanda highlights the dangers of ignoring genocidal situations and trying to use nonstate actors—humanitarian organizations—for activities that states and state-based organizations like the UN should be undertaking. It illustrates the vast unintended consequences humanitarians can have as they carry out their humanitarian imperative. And it was a testing ground for newly resurgent international criminal justice norms. The DRC was a reflection of those unintended consequences, but also of the inability of the international community to adequately respond to a fiendishly complex set of conflicts that spread across vast ungoverned spaces and borders. The UN slowly ratcheted up its response, declaring the protection of civilians its highest priority, and, in a very uneven, punctuated fashion, it tried to put this determination into effect. Even with millions dead, there was nary a whisper of the highly politicized responsibility to protect, even as the UN undertook proto-R2P activities. The DRC also puts in high relief the pol...

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