Rethinking Approaches to Prevention under the Responsibility to Protect

Agency and Empowerment within Vulnerable Populations

in Global Responsibility to Protect
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Within the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle, there is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Beneath the statement that states and the international community are charged with the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, lies the implication that vulnerable populations cannot protect themselves. In periods of crisis, when the international community might consider mobilising a response under pillar three, this is often the case. Yet outside of such crises, when pillar one – the enduring responsibility of the state to protect its own populations – and pillar two – assistance from the international community to meet this responsibility – might be invoked in a preventive capacity, vulnerable populations may not be wholly reliant upon protection from external actors. In these circumstances, persecuted groups may actively seek to protect themselves, and may be successfully able to do so. In this paper, I challenge the current understanding of prevention within R2P as an externally imposed process, by considering how persecuted groups have themselves acted in ways that mitigate their vulnerability to mass atrocities. The paper considers a number of historical case studies in which targeted groups were able to leverage their own agency, often with assistance from others, to reduce this vulnerability. These include cases that culminated in genocide, namely the experiences of German and Austrian Jews under Nazi rule, and negative cases studies in which a demonstrable risk of mass atrocities was not realised, such as the experiences of Yemenite Jews in the first half of the twentieth century and those of the Bahá’í community in Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution. These cases suggest that assisting persecuted populations to empower themselves can be an effective way to promote resilience to mass atrocities. In the final section of the paper, I explore why this approach is often overlooked, despite its capacity for some success. I consider the potential benefits and costs of a greater focus on utilising the agency of vulnerable groups in endeavours to prevent mass atrocities.

Rethinking Approaches to Prevention under the Responsibility to Protect

Agency and Empowerment within Vulnerable Populations

in Global Responsibility to Protect




V.V. Stanciu‘Reflections on the Congress for the Prevention of Genocide’Yad Vashem Studies 7: 185–187 (1968).


Cited in Stanley MeislerKofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War (London: Wiley2007) p. 178.


Alex Bellamy‘The Responsibility to Protect and the Problem of Military Intervention’International Affairs 84/4: 615–39 (2008) p. 621.


Noha Shawki‘Responsibility to Protect: The Evolution of an International Norm’Global Responsibility to Protect 3/2: 172–96 (2011) p. 180.


Mayersen and McLoughlin‘Risk and Resilience to Mass Atrocities in Africa’ pp. 247–69.


Ibid p. 23.


Ibid p. 17.


Genocide Prevention Task ForcePreventing Genocide p. 41.


David HamburgPreventing Genocide: Practical Steps Toward Early Detection and Effective Action (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers2008) pp. 72–96.


Genocide Prevention Task ForcePreventing Genocide p. 49.


Mégret‘Beyond the “Salvation” Paradigm’ p. 583.


Ibid pp. 236–41.


McLoughlin and Mayersen‘Reconsidering Root Causes’ pp. 49–67.


Ibid p. 33.


Peter LongerichHolocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews (Oxford: Oxford University Press2010) pp. 109–113; Engel The Holocaust p. 34; John Dippel Bound upon a Wheel of Fire: Why So Many German Jews made the Tragic Decision to Remain in Nazi Germany (New York: Basic Books 1996) pp. 233–54.


EngelThe Holocaust p. 42; slightly lower figures are provided in Yehuda Bauer A History of the Holocaust (New York: Franklin Watts 1982) p. 109.


BauerA History of the Holocaust p. 125.


Ibid p. 123.


Ibid p. 119.


Ibid p. 23.


Ibid pp. 35–37.


Ibid pp. 41–42.


Ari ArielJewish-Muslim Relations and Migration from Yemen to Palestine in the Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Boston: Brill2014) pp. 117–136; Keren Hayesod The Exodus from Yemen; Bat-Zion Eraqi-Klorman ‘The Forced Conversion of Jewish Orphans in Yemen’ International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 33: 23–47 (2001).


 Quoted in ParfittThe Road to Redemption p. 143.


ParfittThe Road to Redemption p. 167.


AhroniJewish Emigration p. 2.


Friedrich Affolter‘The Specter of Ideological Genocide: The Bahá’ís of Iran’War Crimes Genocide & Crimes against Humanity 1/1: 75–114 (2005) p. 78.


Thomas Schirrmacher‘Iran: Suppression of religious freedom and persecution of religious minorities’International Journal for Religious Freedom 2/1: 111–130 (2009) p. 117.


Moojan Momen‘The Babi and Bahá’í community of Iran: A case of “suspended genocide”?’ Journal of Genocide Research 7/ 2: 221–241 (2005) p. 224.


Ibid p. 13.


Affolter‘The Specter of Ideological Genocide’ p. 100.


Ibid p. 71.


Bigelow‘A Campaign to Deter Genocide’ p. 195.


Cooper‘The Bahá’ís of Iran’ p. 13.


Michael Karlberg‘Constructive Resilience: The Bahá’í Response to Oppression’Peace and Change 35/2: 222–256 (2010).


Bigelow‘A Campaign to Deter Genocide’ p. 192; Momen ‘The Babi and Bahá’í community of Iran’ p. 238.


Mégret‘Beyond the “Salvation” Paradigm’ p. 581.


ValentinoFinal Solutions p. 249.


Edwin BlissTurkey and the Armenian Atrocities (Boston: H.L. Hastings1896) p. 370; E.A. Brayley Hodgetts Round About Armenia: The Record of a Journey across the Balkans through Turkey the Caucasus and Persia in 1895 (London: Sampson Low Marston 1896) p. 91.


William SpryLife on the Bosphorus-Doings in the City of the Sultan. Turkey Past and Present Including Chronicles of the Caliphs from Mahomet to Abdul Hamid II (London: H.S. Nichols1895) pp. 281–282 reprinted in Vatche Ghazarian (ed.) Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: An Anthology of Transformation 13th-19thCenturies (Waltham: Mayreni Publishing 1997) pp. 624–625; Richard Hovannisian ‘The Historical Dimensions of the Armenian Question 1878–1923’ in Richard Hovannisian (ed.) The Armenian Genocide in Perspective (New Brunswick: Transaction Books 1986) p. 25.


Norman CigarGenocide in Bosnia: The Policy of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press1995) pp. 169–170.


Ibid p. 177.


Kopel Gallant and Eisen‘Is Resisting Genocide a Human Right?’ p. 1319.


CigarGenocide in Bosnia p. 166.


Bruce Jentleson‘The Obama Administration and R2P: Progress, Problems and Prospects’Global Responsibility to Protect 4/4 (2012): 399–423 pp. 412–13.


David Cortright and George Lopez‘Assessing Smart Sanctions: Lessons from the 1990s’ quoted in Kopel Gallant and Eisen ‘Is Resisting Genocide a Human Right?’ p. 1282.


Kopel Gallant and Eisen‘Is Resisting Genocide a Human Right?’ p. 1320.


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