Five days to go!

Knowledge brokering03 Jun 2010André Nollkaemper

With five days to go until the R2P event in Linköping, many R2P watchers still have time to follow events over at Kampala, Uganda, where the ICC review conference is taking place. R2P and the ICC are largely concerned with the same situations: Darfur, the election violence in Kenya, the ongoing conflict in Uganda, and others. Indeed, R2P even is defined in terms of the core crimes that are within the jurisdiction of the ICC: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

However, R2P seeks a very different response to these events. The ICC is essentially retrospective; it deals with crimes that have been committed in the past. Some observers say that the prospect that the ICC may prosecute a person who commits international crimes has preventative effects. The proposition is not entirely implausible, and indeed the ICC should be part of any comprehensive implementation of R2P. However, we are still waiting for empirical evidence that supports this view.

R2P has a very different approach to the ICC – and I would venture it is a more fundamental and more important one. It does not seek to respond to crimes that have occurred, but rather to prevent crimes that may or are likely to take place (the precise definition of this trigger is in itself a controversial issue that will be discussed in Linköping). Moreover, it is a much broader and more integrative concept: the true value of R2P lies in the fact that it integrates various dimensions of prevention, including prevention by the territorial state, assistance of the territorial state in its attempts to prevent international crimes, and involvement of the international community in prevention. While none of these individual aspects is radically new, it is the integration that makes R2P promising.

The jury is still out on the question of whether R2P will in fact make a difference in practice, or whether it adds much to the variety of policies and institutions that already exist. But the promise is too significant, and the commission of international crimes too pervasive, to discard the concept right away. The feeble consensus of the General Assembly in the 2009 debate calls for concerted action to move forward. The Linköping conference will contribute to that aim. By this time next week, there should be the first indications of its success.