This week’s reading list

On turmoil in Egypt:


4 Die in Egypt as Unrest Spreads Across Country

Democracy Muslim Brotherhood style making Mubarak look good – Araminta Wordsworth

The anti-anti-democrats of Cairo – George Jonas

Al-Azhar cleric fears civil war in Egypt as protests over Mohamed Morsi grow – Patrick Kingsley

 Top 100: The most influential people in armed violence reduction

The AOAV put together a list of 100 people who are are trying to change the world for the better by attempting to end armed violence.

– The Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention – Council on Foreign Relations

Syria‘s  civil war has raised  debate about the international community’s responsibility to mount a humanitarian intervention. The Council on Foreign Relations reflects on R2P, sovereignty, and debates on interventions. It also reminds that “R2P is not solely about military intervention but, if it is to have any meaning at all, must include that option as a last resort.

– “Bono can’t help Africans by stealing their voice”

This article is more about development than about prevention but I found it very interesting.You don’t necessarily have to agree but there is a lot of truth in this article. I particularly liked this excerpt: 

“Bono claims to be “representing the poorest and most vulnerable people“. But talking to a wide range of activists from both the poor and rich worlds since ONE published its article last week, I have heard the same complaint again and again: that Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.”

 More space should be given to those who are actually affected by poverty, diseases etc because they know best. Instead of working “on the behalf of the poor” we should be working WITH them and listen TO them. What does a board of billionaires know about these people daily struggles? What do I know about their lives and struggles?

– Middle-class rage sparks protest movements in Turkey, Brazil, Bulgaria and beyond

Unless you live under rock, you can’t help but notice how many countries are currently affected by protests. I think this comment summarizes the situation pretty well:

“We are all linked together, Bulgaria, Turkey, Brazil. We are tweeting in English so we can understand each other, and supporting each other on other social media (…) We are fighting for different reasons, but we all want our governments to finally work for us. We are inspiring each other.”

 Is Harper’s Syria strategy wrong-headed by Zach Paikin and Kyle Matthews

Canada’s strategy in Syria has been quite a disappointment.The authors are not calling for military intervention but for an approach that does not isolate Russia. Middle-powers such as Canada can play an important role in this crisis because they are middle-powers and can act as interlecutors between bigger powers such as Russia and the US. 

“We encourage the prime minister of Canada to take pragmatic and constructive steps to achieve this goal by acting as an interlocutor between Russia and the West, thereby recommitting Canada to the enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect.”

– Syria’s Metastasising Conflicts  by the International Crisis Group.

The ICG calls for a de-escalation of the conflict and for a diplomatic settlement. The ICG suggests the following questions: “What kind of power-sharing solution can protect regime and opposition interests alike? What kind of state could emerge from a political process and be the foundation of a lasting solution? How must existing institutions change for this vision to gain substance? Is there a way to accommodate the concerns of rival regional actors?” 

– Susan Rice: Syria inaction a ‘stain’ on security council

Whether this means that things will finally move forward, I don’t know…

– The Next Darfur? In Sudan’s Rebel-Held Nuba Mountains, War Rages On – by Tristan McConnell

– The UN Security Council refers to states’ responsibilities regarding mass atrocity crimes twice in June – Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

– French ex-cop accused of Rwanda genocide complicity

Former French police officer and security adviser to African states accused of supplying arms to the Rwandan government in 1994. He did so knowing what was happening…

– A good report on the situation in Myanmar where the transition  from a military dictatorship has been marred by growing violence against the Rohingya, clashes between Buddhist monks and Muslims.

Myanmar’s Democracy Transition Marred by Anti-Muslim Rhetoric and Violence

You can also read this report: Crimes Against Humanity: The Case of the Rohingya People in Burma – by Aydin Habibollahi, Hollie McLean and Yalcin Diker. The Norman Paterson School for International Affairs and the All-Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity 




Fruitless G8 – only refugees feel more isolated


The G8 Summit started off with a lot of pessimism. Describing Russia’s position on Syria compared to the other members of the group, Harper described the G8 the “G7 plus one”  and accused President Putin of supporting “thugs” in Damascus. Meanwhile, Putin and President Obama looked grim throughout the talks as the men failed to agree on how to end the crisis. The atmosphere was not cold – it was icy.

At the end of the summit however, Harper and British Minister David Cameron described final joint communiqué as a significant step forward. David Cameron, meanwhile, described the Syria statement as ‘very strong and purposeful’. Harper’s position throughout this conflict has been questionable. Harper went further: “We have a very different outcome here and a much better outcome than I thought we were going to have (…) So I think this was a very significant move on the part of Mr. Putin and the Russians.” He has refused to invoke the Responsibility to Protect but at the same time his statement before the G8 summit did little to open a constructive dialog between the West and Russia. But reading an article on the G8 summit, I was surprised by the optimism of Canadian Prime Minister Harper regarding decisions made on Syria at the eight world leaders. How can Prime Minister Harper speak of “a better outcome” considering no major decisions were taken?

The Americans were less enthusiastic – rightly so. There was no real shift from Russia – only Harper changed his perspective of Moscow. President Putin pretty much dominated the talks and refused to move.

Beyond calling for an end to the conflict, the final communiqué only gave general guidelines:

–       Maximize diplomatic pressure to bring all sides to the table as soon as possible.

–       Commitment “to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united inclusive and democratic Syria.” This includes finding “an agreement on a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent.”

–       Preserve Syria’s public services, including security services and military forces.

–       Syrian authorities and the opposition should commit to destroying all terrorist and extremist organizations.

–       Increasing humanitarian aid.

The communiqué sounds as vague as David Cameron’s statement, which some commentators even described as “bland”.

1) No timetable was set for the Geneva peace conference (“We strongly endorse the decision to hold as soon as possible the Geneva conference on Syria” – what is soon?) and nothing is said about who will sit around the negotiating table. Once again the conference, which is supposed to design a political transition, is delayed due to disagreements on the nature and objectives of the peace talks.

2) There is no mention of President Al-Assad. Putin backs Assad while Western leaders want him gone and not part of any political settlement. Russia vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions that sought to push Assad out and fears that ousting Assad without a clear transition plan.

3) There is no explanation on who could be part of the transitional government. Could senior officials stay in power, as stated in the communiqué? There is no agreement on the nature and structure post-Assad cabinet.

4) The final communiqué do not mention arms shipment to rebel forces. France, Britain and recently the US announced that they are ready to arm rebels because they have evidence that the Syrian army used chemical weapons. Russia, who rejects these allegations, considers the Assad regime as “legitimate” and warned against arming rebels who use tactics that are against “humanitarian and cultural values” of Europe. (“The blood is on the hands of both parties – there is always a question as to who is to blame for that. One should hardly back those who kill their enemies and eat their organs.”).  For Russia arming the rebels would destabilize the region, but arming the Assad regime will have the contrary effect. The “logic” seems to be that it is okay for the Assad regime to commit crimes but not for rebels.  Speak of double standards.

Yes, arming the rebels is risky and there is space for half-hearted attempts. First, it may indeed escalate the conflict considering several countries are ready up-step their engagement with the rebels (USA, France, Britain, Turkey…) while others are supplying the Assad regime (Russia and Iran for example). Second, nobody knows where the weapons will ultimately end up, especially since Sunni extremists are playing an increasingly important role in the battle against Assad. The supply chain is complex and it will be difficult to keep track of the weapons. However, I am strongly against countries such as Russia arming what it considers as a “legitimate” government. A regime that kills its citizens has lost all forms of legitimacy in my eyes and certainly acts against the “humanitarian and cultural values” of Europe. President Putin’s (anti-Western) position is driven by his urge to show that Moscow can and wants to remain a strong player not only in Europe (Russia wants to preserve its naval presence in the Mediterranean) but also on the international scene. Syria is Russia’s main ally in the region and therefore an opportunity to limit U.S. influence in the Middle East. Considering his own way to rule, Putin is also against the idea of regime change – even when a regime kills its citizens. Russia’s (and Putin’s) stakes in this crisis are therefore serious – as are the West’s. But unlike the rest of the G8 members who remain vague on the nature of their involvement, Putin (just like Assad) not only knows exactly what he wants but also how he wants to achieve it.

So what can be done to convince Russia to cooperate with the West? I agree with Kyle Matthews and Zach Paikin that isolating Moscow is a bad move. I am also not sure about Human Rights Watch’s suggestion that the U.S. and Europe should refuse to enter new deals Russia’s arms trading company Rosoboronexport. I don’t think this strategy will work with the current regime considering its increasingly anti-western position. Because Russia showed its indispensability on the issue of Syria, making concessions on other issues important to Moscow may be the solution even if it is a hard one to swallow for Europe and the US. Russia must be convinced that it also in its national interest to play a constructive and positive role in the crisis.

The Syrian conflict exposes some of the G8’s main problems. Some of the world’s most important players are completely absent. There is little diversity and therefore less possibilities to explore alternative solutions to global problems such as this one. I am not sure what it would mean for Syria if countries such as China, India and Brazil were included but it would bring new perspectives and diversity to the table. For the 93,000 Syrians currently waiting in refugee camps, fruitless G8 meetings such as this one only increases their pessimism and isolation.

A Community of Commitment

“The place to start is with prevention: through measures aimed in particular at building state capacity, remedying grievances, and ensuring the rule of law. My hope is that in the future, the Responsibility to Protect will be exercised not after the murder and rape of innocent people, but when community tensions and political unrest begin. It is by preventing, rather than reacting, that we can truly fulfill our shared responsibility to end the worst forms of human rights abuses.” – Desmond Tutu

I realize that this post is going to be biased because I am working for the Institute that hosted the event I would like to talk about. But my point is not necessarily to promote the work of the Montreal Institue for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) but to show that even though prevention does not seem to be on the minds of policymakers and politicians, civil society groups, NGOs and think tanks are leading the way. Last week MIGS organized a three-day professional training program on the prevention of mass atrocities. The aim of the course was to give participants the chance to understand what is being done in terms of prevention, and to share lessons on existing tools and ways we can come together to prevent these crimes.

There were nine thematic sessions:

  • International Law and the Genocide Convention (Prof. René Provost, Associate Professor, McGill University, Faculty of Law)
  • The Responsibility to Protect (Naomi Kikoler, Director of Policy and Advocacy of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect)
  • Will to Intervene and the Role of National Governments (Frank Chalk (Director of MIGS at Concordia University)
  • The Role of Journalists in Genocide Prevention (Allan Thompson, Professor of Journalism at Carleton University)
  • The Role of the UN and Regional Organizations in Preventing Mass Atrocities (Claudia Diaz (UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide)
  • Mobilizing Technology for Prevention (Colette Mazzucelli, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University)
  • Case Study on Technology and the Syria Crisis (Anwar Abas and Micah Clark, The SecDev Group).
  • Case study on the Arab Spring (Bessma Momani, Senior Fellow at the Centre For International Governance and Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario, and Brookings Institution in Washington, DC)
  • Case Study on Kenya and Hate Speech (Susan Benesch, Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute)

The wisdom of experience

“The aim of humanity is not to survive the future, but thrive in the future.”

Who better to open the training program than Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire, someone who has personally seen the consequences of the international community’s failure to act? Speaking about conflicts in general, Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire, gave three options for the future: survive it; build a wall; resolve it at the source. Our aim should not be to survive the future, he says, but to thrive and “to attack the source of the rage.” Dallaire’s optimism in the future is something striking considering what he has witnessed. But he continues to believe in the capacity of new generation to shape the future and act as leaders – a fitting start to this training program.

“All the things we said would happen in Syria if we intervened have happened even though we didn’t.”

Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Irwin Cotler gave a impassionate speech on Canada’s need to condemn state-sanctioned cultures of hate and criticize crimes of indifference towards genocide. Looking back at the past, Cotler made it clear that we knew what was happening in Rwanda and Darfur but failed to act. Looking at the present, he underlined the need to hold Iran and the Khomeini regime accountable for a variety of atrocities and human rights violations, including incitement to genocide against the Baha’is. The former minister warned about the regime’s threat both to its people and to international security. Let’s also remember what happened to protesters who took the streets to denounce the 2009 elections, chanting Death to the Dictator…. Cotler’s mention of Iran and his Massacre88 Campaign was timely considering the elections took place on Friday.

Understanding prevention and the Responsibility to Protect

The first two sessions sought to give an overview of genocide and mass atrocity prevention, including the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). While Provost gave an outline of the international legal framework and elements of the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Naomi Kikoler focused on R2P. Although signed by a large number of states, the doctrine is often misunderstood by policymakers, politicians, legislators, academics but also by the general public, who see R2P strictly as military intervention, regime change or even neo-imperialism. The Iraq war certainly gave the concept of R2P a bad name. A member of the Global Centre for the Responsibility, Naomi Kikoler’s aim was to underline that states, and international and regional organizations have a responsibility to generate preventive and effective strategies to act when states that are unwilling or unable to protect their own people. These strategies involve a wide range of soft and hard diplomacy. If these tools fail, then outside actors have a responsibility to mobilize other forms of responses. Military intervention is certainly the last tool one wants to use – thus the emphasis on prevention. Despite setbacks, Kikoler believes that many small successes demonstrate that R2P is “something remarkable” but she regrets that Canada is no longer playing the normative role on the international scene. Perhaps the most important lesson learned from Kikoler and Provost is that states, regional and international institutions, but also civil society groups all have a responsibility in the mass atrocity prevention and in the R2P process.


 Bringing R2P to life

Considering the rather poor implementation record of the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Frank Chalk’s session on the Will to Intervene and the Role of National Governments sought to explain why the international community should act in a preventive manner and why outside actors should intervene in one or another, even when mass atrocities are taking place in far away places. In the global world that we live in today, mass atrocities and genocide have consequences that reverberate throughout the rest of the world. Thinking about the self-interest of states and national governments are mainly, Frank Chalk emphasized that crimes committed in countries such as Sudan or Cambodia will have economic, social, and political repercussions in the US, Canada and Europe. Think about the influx of refugees, risk of pandemics, costs of military intervention compared to preventive tools etc. According to Frank Chalk, national interests “should include the prevention of mass atrocities, not just for humanitarian reasons, but also in the self-interest of our own citizens.”

Things went too far a long time ago: “Time for intervention in Syria was before racist chants became beliefs.”

Bessma Momani’s gave a very realistic view of the crisis in the Middle East. Although this CIGI Senior Fellow gave a comparative analysis of the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt etc), the discussion quickly focused on the Syrian conflict and the consequences of the passivity of the international and regional organizations (“Time for intervention in Syria was before racist chants became beliefs”). The conflict has become extremely complex, making any form of intervention complicated, dangerous and hard to evaluate. By now, Western troops would do more harm than good, she says, and there is also no potential for regional humanitarian intervention from Jordan, Qatar, Turkey or Egypt. The entire region (and beyond) has stakes in the crisis: 1) Iran looks at Syria as one of the only anti-western states, 2) A battle in Aleppo would give Hezbollah a chance to show its a powerful regional force, 3) What has happened on the internal stage has given Russia a purpose again and it continues to see itself a superpower, and 4) the influx of refugees already has repercussion on neighbouring states, including Turkey. What arming to the rebels? Well how will arms be controlled? Momani’s Syrian case was a clear example of the need to act early. Momani’s realistic view of the conflict was very much appreciated. She acknowledged that Assad has been able to convince the world that there is a danger in removing him considering the sectarian character of the conflict. If the regime falls, what happens the day after? While it doesn’t justify the continuous murder of people we also have to ask the question of the day after.

Everybody can and must contribute to prevention

Claudia Diaz and Allan Thompson’s sessions showed that we all have a role to play in prevention. Diaz focused on the role of international and regional organization. As a member of the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide, she is fully aware of the shortcomings of the UN system and that decision-making is made at the Security Council. Yet it is the role of UN bodies and advisers, such as the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, to contribute to prevention by alerting relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide and crimes against humanity, and to mobilize for appropriate action. Of course advisers and offices are limited in their action considering that member states make the final decision – they can “only” make recommendations and complement the work of the UN system as a whole. However, if these bodies alert member states, members won’t be able to pretend they did not know.

Allan Thompson fervent portrayal of the role of the media (journalists in particular) was both captivating and moralizing. Thompson reported from Rwanda in 1996 during the mass exodus of Rwandan refugees from eastern Zaire (now DRC) and later wrote a series of article on Rwanda, including on Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire’s testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Thompson spoke about the controversies about the role and the impact of the media, the responsibilities of journalists, and audiences’ reactions. After speaking about the significant role of domestic media in inciting genocide in Rwanda, Thompson gave an accurate critique of the lack of coverage and understanding of what was happening on the ground at the time, which he think contribute the contributed to the Rwanda genocide. He raised crucial question: can media coverage have an impact of foreign policy? How should these issues be covered? What is the impact of this coverage on individuals and the general public? And how does one proof this impact? These questions also remain relevant in the world of social media. Today traditional and social media are focused on Syria, but what about Sudan and Burma for example? Who is reporting from there? Journalists have a responsibility to ensure knowledge, he says, and they can do so by sharing a human experience because emotions are a form of knowledge.  His own experience gave a realistic view of the consequences that journalists have when they fail their task: the responsibility to report.

Technology: linking the global to the local

I have previously written about the use of new technologies for PreventionColette Mazzucelli and the two representatives of the SecDev Group both focus on the use of mobile phones, digital activism, crowdsourcing, cyber technology, satellite imagery and crisis mapping for prevention and early warning. I see them as experts on the application of these new technologies to early warning and humanitarian response. Prof. Mazzucelli has been involved in various projects, including geospatial analysis in Darfur and crisis mapping in Kenya and Libya with the Ushahidi (“testimony”) platform and the Standby Task Force, a form of digital activism. She showed that Ushahidi is now used in various situations (emergency situations, monitor elections, map incidents of violence, identify needs on the ground during a natural disaster) and accepts all kinds of report by email, text messages, Twitter, and phone apps. The aim? “Breaking the conspiracy of silence” and “closing the window of opportunity, in which governments may act with impunity.” Documented violence is of crucial importance for early warning and brining perpetrators to justice. I find that what is particularly crucial about her work is the focus on the role of education in developing strategies for prevention. As a professor, she wants to give young generations the necessary knowledge and tools to act on these issues, such how to collect up-to-date information and how to assess scope and scale of mass atrocities. As she emphasized “pedagogy is king. Technology can support human agency, but it’s up to humans to decide.”

Anwar Abas and Micah Clark of the SecDev Group, meanwhile, gave a concrete example of the strategic use of social media and other digital technologies by focusing on the Syrian conflict. The aim of the SecDev Group is to generate real-time analysis and evidence-based analysis to inform policymakers. As I have argued before, technology is provides clear evidence of human rights violations.

The SecDev Group and Mazzucelli are aware of the obstacles and limitations of new technologies, including of the so-called Big Data problem, the fact that only a faction of the huge amount of data collected is actually relevant. For example, if you are looking for videos of human rights violations committed in Syria on Youtube, you will find hundreds. But which ones are actually relevant and authentic? Similarly social media brings a risk of misreporting. Both presentations underlined the need to not only verify data but to understand to local context. This where collaboration between Tech experts, think tanks NGOS, and local communities becomes crucial because it links several kinds of knowledge and links the global to the local.

Dangerous speech – where are the limits of free speech ?

As demonstrated by Radio RTLM in the Rwanda genocide, dangerous inflammatory speech often precedes mass atrocities. This has now been recognized by courts but it remains difficult to identify the link between hate speech, incitement and genocide in a consistent manner. Dr. Susan Benesch is involved in a project that seeks to address this gap. Taking the example of Kenya, Benesch explained that she has been working United Nations’ Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (SAPG) to establish an analytical framework to identify, monitor and limit the effects of dangerous speech. The project monitors online space ands put emphasis on “smart monitoring” for prevention, that is a means to distinguish dangerous speech from other speech. Her framework is based on five variables: the speaker (degree of influence), the audience (grievances and fears), the speech act itself, the historical and social context, and the means of dissemination. Furthermore, Benesch is working on ways to limit the effect of dangerous speech and prevent violence: stopping the speech and limiting its dissemination, undermining the credibility of the speaker, and immunizing the audience against the speech. Using the last Kenyan elections as a case study, Benesch demonstrated the need to understand and study speech in order prevent violence.


Considering the demand of participants and speakers to remain in touch after the end of the three-day conference, I believe this first training program was a success and I hope it will be the first of many others. I think MIGS managed to create a small network of professionals and practitioners who seek to make the prevention of mass atrocities a reality. One even explicitly suggested the idea creating a network of support for prevention and R2P. By building support at home, we may be able to put pressure on our leaders to commit to prevention as well. As Dr. Frank Chalk explained,  “We must recognize that the key to mobilizing international support to prevent mass atrocities is to first garner domestic political support.” Step by step, these kinds of events organized by civil society groups will create a growing community of commitment. As Roméo Dallaire once said “Peux ce que veux. Allons-y” (“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s go”).

What I’m reading

A few interesting reads I stumbled upon this week:

Al-Bashir: “As he acts with impunity, many wonder what the “red line” will be for the two Sudans.”

Obama administration and Sudan: “The difference in Obama administration policy and management toward the Syria and the two Sudans crises are stark.”

“The Atrocities Prevention Board’s record to date is decidedly mixed.”

“Today, R2P clings to life support in Syria, as the civilian body count there mounts to appalling levels.”

“Does Syria Mean the End of the Responsibility to Protect?” – 

“The ‘obligation to prevent’ and the ‘obligation to punish’ constitute therefore the core legal obligations the violation of which would render other articles of the Convention meaningless. They are the matrix of the Genocide Convention in that they inform and shape the contours, meaning and implications of the other provisions of the Convention.”

“Despite the narrative from diplomats and journalists that Sudan’s civil war is mostly over, Janjaweed gunmen are still terrorizing the region. This time, no one’s paying attention.” 

Op-ed on Samantha Power’s nomination

How regimes take control of official media channels and push activists onto the Internet.

 “These days, Turks find themselves caught in the crossfire between highly politicized media organizations, so it is not surprising that when people want news they trust their own networks.”

“Amidst intense fighting between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military in Northern Nigeria the need for a political solution to the conflict remains. How could the Nigerian authorities cope with the Islamist insurgency both politically and legally?”




Samantha Power at the UN: Time for Change?


This is no longer big news, but it certainly made the headlines at the beginning of the week: National Security Council advisor Samantha Power is headed to the United Nations. This is an institution she knows well, as President Obama emphasized. As the American ambassador to the UN she will now represent her country at the Security Council, which could lead to major changes if she is able to think outside the U.S.’ “traditional” lines and call for stronger engagement.

Power has long been a vocal advocate of human rights, particularly in terms of humanitarian assistance, genocide and mass atrocity prevention. (Conservative) radio and TV host Glenn Beck once described her as having “an institutional memory bank on genocide.” This is certainly true. Her book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, was widely acclaimed, especially in liberal circles. In her book, she heavily condemns America’s (and the world’s) failure to prevent genocide and mass atrocities in places such as Armenia, Nazi Germany, Rwanda and Cambodia. Since then Power has been a notable advocate of intervention and strong engagement when civilians are faced large-scale human rights abuses. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, described Power as “the foremost voice for human rights within the White House and she has Obama’s ear.” Her book certainly played an important role in the way I view foreign policy.

As a freelancer and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine and The New Yorker, she knows what she is talking about. She has seen the results of inaction. She has seen the horrors of the Balkans, and also reported on Sudan and Rwanda. Mass atrocities are therefore not an abstract concept to her, which, I think, makes her quite unique in the world she works in. She also knows that governments and international organizations are complicated systems dominated by self-interest and geopolitical considerations.

Power is a woman of action, not of endless debates, hollow statements, and daft bureaucracy. Though I was quite disappointed by her overall record, under the Obama administration, she did take the lead on human rights issues. She was able to convince President Obama to set up a no-fly zone in Libya in order to protect civilians, she pushed the White House to take interest in Darfur (though not enough), and she called for action against the Lord’s Resistance Army. Regarding the intervention in Libya, she stated that a failure to establish a no-fly zone would have been “extremely chilling, deadly and indeed a stain on our collective conscience.” Then she also pushed the administration to address genocide prevention by helping to create and by chairing Obama’s new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). Although the APB still has to show real results, the creation of the Board itself was a crucial step toward genocide and mass atrocity prevention.

Could Samantha Power’s nomination lead to a change in policy on Syria and other far-away places that the US and the international community often try to put on the backbench? This is difficult to say. By now, there is no good solution on Syria, just one that it less bad than others. At the Security Council Power will represent the White House’s foreign policy but Obama remained elusive when referring to what Power’s nomination would mean to US foreign policy: “”She knows that American interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side. And she knows that we have to stand up for the things that we believe in. And to ensure that we have the principled leadership we need at the United Nations, I would strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay.” “American interests”, “things that we believe in” and “leadership”? These are vague concepts with ever-changing meanings depending of interests at stake.

But her nomination is a sign of hope. First, She may no have a career as a diplomat but this is perhaps what is needed as well. Plus, as a member of the Obama administration, I believe that she learned the difficulties and limits of policymaking. Second, she is a careful interventionist because as much as she defends the security of civilians, she always knows that intervention can backfire and make matters worse if they are not carefully thought over. As she stated herself “(…) any intervention is going to come under fierce criticism, but we have to think about lesser evils, especially when the human stakes are just becoming ever more pronounced.”

She is an able and knowledgeable activist who may be able to bring important policy changes by suggesting alternative pathways. Even Senator John McCain, who has been urging the US to arm Syrian rebels, believes in her capabilities and welcomed her nomination. My main concern is whether she will be able to be heard and if she will have the ability and capacity to reconcile her believes, American interests and the self-interested nations that sit at the Security Council. If this is the case, she may be able to take decisive action.



Commemorating the International Day of UN peacekeepers: beyond the pessimism

May 29th, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of UN peacekeepers under the theme of “Peacekeeping: Adapting to New Challenges.” The theme was well chosen. Peacekeeping missions have evolved dramatically since they first came into operations, especially with the end of the Cold War and the proliferation of intra-state conflicts. In its early days, peacekeeping was limited to maintaining ceasefires, implementing peace agreements, bringing stability, and contributing to political efforts to resolve conflict. But peacekeeping operations now vary in type and include a very wide range of activities that will prevent, mitigate or manage violent conflict. Prevention, for example, is designed to resolve or contain disputes before they become violent while conflict management means the containment of conflict. Because the role of peacekeepers has grown dramatically over the years, the Blue Berets’ tasks now include military and humanitarian action, diplomacy, and civil administration (assisting transition by organizing elections, building institutions, etc). In today’s conflicts a multilateral approach to prevention and peacekeeping is an imperative that still needs to be worked on.

Many books and articles have been written on the UN’s peacekeeping record. In general, there is a lot of cynicism and negativism. You rarely hear about successful missions (Namibia, Timor-Leste, Mozambique, El Salvador can be considered as successes). True, the 1990s was a decade of blunders in terms of conflict prevention. Think about Somalia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia. These major failures have greatly affected the credibility of the UN. In Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan, the UN failed to prevent genocide from taking place even though there were plenty of warning signs. Those at the top ignored or mishandled the information. Again we have a proof that on of the main difficulties is for a third party to take action before tensions erupt into large-scale violence. As we know the UN system is daft, frustrating and highly bureaucratic. Many people also question the effectiveness of several missions as well. This is the case of Monusco in the DRC. As the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, how come it is unable to protect civilians from violence? How come Monusco does not have a mandate to respond to attacks (though this is now set to change with the Intervention Brigade)? The UN says it is learning lessons from missed opportunities and failed missions. To tell you the truth, often I am still waiting to see these lessons and policy recommendations being applied.

Nevertheless, does this mean that we should be pessimistic about the state and future of peacekeeping? Last week Lt-General Dallaire wrote an interesting piece in which he commemorates those “who have served the most vulnerable persons around the globe during their time of greatest need.” As the former head of UNMIR he is very much aware of the failures of the UN: “We have stumbled and, indeed, we have fallen; but when the objective is great—and there can be no greater objective than to secure peace for this and future generations—we must pick ourselves back up and continue forward.” Similarly, Hilde Johnson, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in South Sudan, wrote that “following the inspiring example of the people that it serves, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, has also remained resilient in the face of adversity.” Despite existing problems and setbacks, both Dallaire and Johnson praise the Blue Berets’ efforts to protect civilians and to consolidate fragile peace or institutions.

Like Lt-General Dallaire and Hilde Johnson, I still believe in peacekeeping missions. Conflicts are complex and forever changing, and in many at-risk or post-conflict countries, peacekeepers are making a difference. But as Johnson states “There is no single recipe to achieve these milestones.” This perhaps one of the biggest lessons we should learn from each mission: there is not one-size-fits-all solution.

However, I remain sceptical about those who are supposed to take the decisions about whether or not to intervene or about the terms of a mission’s mandate. Sometimes I think that those at the top have given up or forgotten the UN’s values. Western nations such as US, China and Canada finance missions in a significant way but no longer commit a lot of peacekeepers (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria are now the main contributors). In terms of military personnel, Canada now ranks 53, most likely because the Harper government does not see peacekeeping as enhancing Canada’s importance on the world stage. Peacekeeping used to be part of Canada’s identity. Bringing the much-needed resources and financing operations is crucial, but without the necessary expertise, it will be a waste of money. Johnson adds something that must be remembered: all actors should be transparent and accountable, including international organizations such as the UN and its missions. For example, peacekeepers must be held accountable for committing crimes and thereby affecting the credibility of the UN. Meanwhile, those at the top must to be accountable for ignoring warning or their inaction. All of them must be aware of their responsibility to “think beyond their purse.” I therefore support Dallaire’s call for renewed Canadian leadership “both in terms of values and expertise.” There is a need to believe in peacekeepers. Doing otherwise is detrimental to them and especially to those they are supposed to protect.