Operationalising the preventive component of the responsibility to protect: Strategies and implementation
Preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a core goal of the United Nations and the international community. As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2004, „There can be no more important issue, and no more binding obligation, than the prevention of genocide. Indeed, this may be considered one of the original purposes of the United Nations.‟ The importance of preventing genocide was first codified in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust. The record of the United Nations with respect to genocide and mass atrocities, however, is widely recognised as abysmal. In the latter half of the twentieth century the UN was unable to respond effectively to genocides and mass atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Partially in response to this failure, at the World Summit in 2005, UN Member States unanimously endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) principle. This principle highlighted the responsibility of each nation state and the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Preventing the outbreak of such mass atrocities was recognized as a core component of RtoP. This paper explores opportunities and challenges associated with the preventive component of the RtoP principle. The first section of the paper explores the range of strategies that can be utilised for mass atrocity prevention. The second section analyses how these strategies can be utilised to maximum effect. Preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a complex and difficult challenge, but a concerted and informed approach offers real prospects for reducing the impact of this "odious scourge‟.