Civilian fatality figures are a limited, if important, data point that influences the ability of researchers to study patterns of violence and evaluate policy responses intended to end violence. However, across datasets that track such violence there are significant differences in how and what is counted, this has direct bearing on how atrocity endings are understood and what policies might best be applied. There are often good reasons for data variation that cannot always be resolved. Nonetheless, it is important to understand and itemize the factors that influence these differences. Highlighting the relationship between the evidence base for and the construction of research consensus about civilian fatality figures, this paper draws on case study research to demonstrate how variations in the evidence base that defines an ending can fundamentally alter the narrative about historical mass atrocity events, with significant implications for how protection is conceptualized.
Over 100,000 un peacekeeping personnel are deployed on missions with authority from the Security Council, under Chapter vii of the un Charter, to use force to protect civilians. Nevertheless, they have repeatedly failed to do so and yet there does not appear to be a single case where the un has taken disciplinary action against senior staff for failing to act in line with a mission mandate in this regard. This article argues that the ´positive´ and ´negative´ obligations of international human rights law, protecting the right to life and physical integrity, provide the most appropriate guidance to the tactical use of force by un peacekeeping soldiers. Mechanisms also need to be created to improve the accountability of un missions to those that they are responsible for protecting.
The emergence of the Responsibility to Protect (r2p) doctrine is part of a universal longing to prevent atrocities and to protect those affected by them. While its origins are quite distinct from international humanitarian principles, its links with humanitarian issues are clear. In fact, r2p emerged in response to humanitarian tragedies. This article traces the intersection of r2p and protection frameworks for refugees and internally displaced persons (idps), recognizing the important differences between them. r2p focuses on prevention, response and rebuilding – the first two tasks of which are inherently political. Conflicts cannot be prevented or resolved without engaging in political action of one kind or another. Responding to atrocities requires taking sides. Normative frameworks on refugees and idps, on the other hand, are based on the principle that people are to be assisted and protected on the basis of need alone and that humanitarian action is non-political in nature.
The United Nations faces an existential crisis. The norms that bind and ‘safeguard humanity’ are currently under threat. The deliberate bombing of hospitals and the indiscriminate killing of civilians has become almost routine in Syria and several other conflicts. Numerous governments and murderous non-state actors (like isis or Boko Haram) are defying international humanitarian and human rights law. This article argues that the solution to the current global exigency and a central challenge facing the next Secretary-General is to achieve an equilibrium shift away from crisis response and towards conflict prevention. This is especially true with regard to preventing mass atrocity crimes (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing). Historically, no single issue has done more to tarnish the reputation of the un than the failure to halt atrocities. Under a committed Secretary-General, the un has unique capacity to prevent these crimes.
North Korea has long been considered a country where r2p’s application would not be a practical option. Its major abuses are largely hidden from view and its reclusive nature has made it appear impervious to outside influence. But with the publication of the un Commission of Inquiry report and the response of the dprk, opportunities have arisen. Building on these, this article proposes an r2p framework for North Korea with the strong involvement of the Secretary-General and the entire un system. It argues that despite the challenges, there are persuasive reasons for the new Secretary-General to promote r2p for North Korea.
Today the relevance, legitimacy and credibility of the United Nations are widely seen as a function of its efforts to end civil wars and prevent the worst mass atrocities. Despite advances in recent years, the un’s protection record over the past decade is mixed. Considering the ever-growing global expectations of the un to protect populations from large-scale violence, along with a rise in protection risks, these issues will naturally feature highly on the agenda of António Guterres when he assumes the post of Secretary-General in January 2017. He will need to overcome a number of daunting challenges to ensure the un realizes its protection promise and restores the organization’s damaged credibility in this area. To achieve this, he will need to make progress on three fronts in particular: first, fostering a renewed consensus around the Responsibility to Protect norm; second, strengthening the ability of peace operations to implement protection mandates while ensuring that expectations are in line with what blue helmets can deliver; and third, improving the un’s response to severe human rights violations in non-mission settings.