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Priority for New UN Secretary-General: Prevent Genocide

January 25, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations


Council Special Report Outlines Ways to Avert Future Darfurs

The new secretary-general of the United Nations should make genocide prevention a centerpiece of his reform agenda, concludes a new Council Special Report. "Ban Ki-moon should take the General Assembly's endorsement of the responsibility to protect as a mandate and mission statement for the UN and build a reform program that is designed to implement it."

In 2005, the United Nations adopted the responsibility to protect, the principle that "mass atrocities that take place in one state are the concern of all states." "The adoption of the responsibility to protect is a turning point in how states define their rights and responsibilities, and removes some of the classic excuses for doing nothing," says report author and Council Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein. But "agreeing on the not the same thing as acting on it." "If Darfur is the first 'test case' of the responsibility to protect, there is no point in denying that the world has failed the entry exam."

"Summoning the political will to take risks is the main obstacle to converting the responsibility to protect into a program of action. Although the responsibility for atrocities against the African minority in western Sudan rests with the Khartoum government, the failure to stop the killing is a collective one," says the report, Darfur and Beyond: What is Needed to Prevent Mass Atrocities.

"Darfur illustrates the difficulties in converting the principle of the responsibility to protect into a program of action," says the report. "The long-term goal is to avoid the stark options of 'Doing Nothing' and 'Sending in the Marines.' That requires establishing a pattern of early and effective international response at the first signs of concern. The place to start is with concrete steps to build capacity—diplomatic, economic, legal, and military—in support of the principle of humanitarian protection," concludes the report.

The United Nations
UN reform is faltering, but can be revived if oriented around the genocide prevention mission. "Management reform detached from a clear assessment of the purposes of the UN is destined to sputter and fail." Recommendations include:

  • "To respond quickly and effectively to new or expanded Security Council mandates, the United States should support a proposal now before the General Assembly to create a pool of 2,500 civilians who would permanently be on call for peacekeeping missions."
  • "The United States should support a recommendation for the permanent Security Council members to withhold the use of the veto in the case of dire humanitarian need, except when their own vital national security interests are at stake."
  • "The United States should support the discretionary authority of the UN Special Adviser on Genocide to brief the UN Security Council."
  • "The new Human Rights Council, whose role is to spotlight human rights abuses and shame abusers, can demonstrate its credibility if it treats the human rights records of its members without fear or favor."
  • "The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and its undersecretary should operate with greater management authority while remaining politically accountable to the Security Council."

Darfur is at a turning point, similar to Bosnia in 1995. "Focusing on diplomacy now will be read by Khartoum as a permission slip to do as it pleases. Military action may be the only way to get Sudan to relent, yet it is dangerous, not guaranteed to succeed, and, as a consequence, unlikely to receive broad international political support."

The report recommends three interim steps to pressure the Khartoum government:

  • "Immediately strengthen the African Union mission in Sudan" by bringing the African Union forces up to full strength with money, equipment, and training by NATO.
  • "Ready an international force now" by lining up pledges for an international force that could supplement the AU force if necessary. "Pledges by China to participate in a mission in Darfur would provide some political cover to the Sudanese government to accept an international force and pressure Khartoum to do so."
  • "Enforce the UN and [Darfur Peace Agreement] flight bans" by enforcing the UN Security Council ban on offensive military flights, which would even the odds on the ground between Khartoum and the Darfuris.

The United States
"President Bush's 'Not on My Watch' pledge has not been followed up with a formal strategy for implementation." Recommendations include:

  • "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should develop a program to institutionalize atrocity prevention into the normal work of the State Department," and should "strongly support the mission and activities of the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization, lobby Congress to fully fund the activity, and invest in building an institutional capacity at the State Department for this critical mission."
  • "The new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, should reaffirm support for fulfilling the recommendations of the 2005 Defense Department Directive, putting the stabilization and reconstruction mission on par with war fighting."

Regional Organizations
"Coalitions of militarily capable states will be a critical part in building an effective capacity to prevent mass atrocities." Recommendations include:

  • "The United States should promote formal NATO acceptance of a role in preventing genocide and mass atrocities."
  • "The EU's Headline Goals should explicitly be pursued in order to create an EU capacity to implement the responsibility to protect."
  • "The AU should welcome and continue to solicit the support of outside nations to develop its military capacity with the goal of reducing its reliance on outside forces to prevent mass killings."

Contact: CFR Communications,; 212-434-9888

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