Paving the way from principle to practice

Development Policy07 Jun 2010Julia Hoffmann

André Nollkamper, the chair of the conference, opened our first plenary today by outlining what he called the potential of the r2p, which will hopefully guide the upcoming exchanges and deliberations between the participants, both offline and online.

Clearly, while consensus on the r2p is broad but still feeble, many challenges remain and need to be addressed if this ’emerging doctrine’ is to fulfil the hope to bring about effective responses to ‘another Srebrenica’. Even among his peers in international law, scepticism remains when it comes to the question of whether the r2p debate is actually engendering anything new – after all, he reminded the audience of a common criticism: that there are already many obligations entailed within existing international law. Also, the applied tool box of policies, such as military planning and rule of law programmes, already concern many aspects that are envisaged under r2p responses.

Yet, the potential remains that the r2p may show its strength in looking beyond the limited scope of legal obligations, which are neither necessary nor sufficient a condition to prevent mass atrocities, by providing a more integrated response to form effective policies. To this end, there is a dire need to clarify and thus entrench a more robust normative framework that includes, but is not limited to, military responses.

Furthermore, there remains so far a lack of clarity when it comes to the obligations of, for example, regional organizations to implement existing obligations and the collection of best practices.

Creating consensus on the r2p will have to be a gradual process, during which it will be vital to consider the legitimate fears of some member states that the concept may be abused by strong states to unduly interfere with the affairs of the weaker. As Stig Elvemar put it, in order to find a way forward, cooperation will be the only viable way. In this regard, limiting the concept to the four crimes specified in the 2009 secretary general’s implementation report provides a promising starting point.

Tomorrow, we will have Edward Luck, special advisor to the secretary general of the UN, share his thoughts on the normative journey of the r2p – in the past and hopefully in the future.

In line with the opening words of ambassador Stig Elvemar, the chair expressed the hope that during the coming days this conference, and the debate that will surround it, may further and give credibility to the process of bringing the potential of the r2p to life – ultimatley to contribute to finding the path from principle to practice and to not ‘let the ideas die in this room’.

And here, of course, is where you come in, dear reader! We are all looking foward to a stimulating debate.