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Sambaiew: how to stop genocide

Vlad Sambaiew, former president and CEO of the Stanley Foundation and former senior U.S. diplomat, spoke at the College on Thursday about the evolution of the Responsibility to Protect concept in International Relations and its potential practical role in stopping mass killings and other atrocities. He sat down with the S&B’s Darwin Manning.


Can you tell me more about your talk today? On the College calendar, it is explained as a discussion about the Responsibility to Protect.

I am not representing the foundation or my times as a diplomat, I am more still talking out of my personal perspective. It is the latest attempt to stop mass killings and mass atrocities and it is the latest effort since the 1940s and the end of WWII [and the] Holocaust. There have been a number of horrible genocides—Cambodia, Rwanda, parts of former Yugoslavia—this is meant as an effort to stop mass killings and prevent them. Therefore, I want to talk about what this initiative is.


What are some of the strategies that this project uses?

Let me take it away from the foundation for a moment because this effort is part of the latest international initiative that goes back to 2000 when the Canadian government brought together heads of state from around ten other nations. They all asked, how can we put together a better effort to stop and prevent future mass killings? We have heard from, for years, people saying, “Never again,“ but how can you make this real? There was a large coalition that put together this report, and from this came the concept, Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This means that countries can’t just do whatever they want… this usually means larger powers should do something positive. In ten years, this went from an idea and report to a largely accepted norm in the world today. It was front and center in 2005 at the World Summit, when over 170 world leaders published an outcome document. One of the things they decided to do was institute the norm R2P, again very nice thought on paper, but how do you make this real? You look at cases today—Syria is an obvious example where the complexity just becomes clearer and clearer everyday, while in Kenya and Libya we have seen this work in a positive way. When the former leader Gaddafi said he was going to kill mass numbers of people, intervention by a number of countries made sure this didn’t happen. Kenya in 2007 did see a large number of killings, and while they have many questions about the new leader, still it did not happen this year. Step by step you are seeing small amounts of progress, and the key is how do we keep this progress going so that we can prevent mass killings overtime.


So, this is a multilateral organization that renders support from many countries?

This is a condition or norm that has been adopted by many countries and this outcome that came out of the World Summit that countries adopted. Depending on how you look at this it can be a principle, a rule or norm, but the key is how do you make this more real. The US has been a leader with this. Countries have suggested that you need to have more of a warning about potential atrocities and how we do that. The US was one of the first to set up an atrocity prevention board, members from the State Department, White House and the CIA, meet regularly to make sure information is shared. Other countries like Australia, Denmark and Holland have also taken a lead in this. There are ongoing efforts to get over 200 countries to coordinate. The African Union has been particularly good at coordinating and preparing for response and it has worked in Somalia and to some extent in Kenya. The point is that people are trying very seriously to implement this policy.


I have spoken to folks on campus from countries that have experienced genocide in their country, such as Rwanda. One thing they expressed concern over was the UN’s inability to act strongly in these places; rather than stopping it, the UN provided food and medical aid, the reason being sovereignty and not wanting to infringe on countries rights. I wanted to know if that is an issue R2P must handle? 

If you go back to the creation of nation-states you find it very essential to the discussion of how a State decides what to do. The idea of sovereignty is paramount, but with globalization over the last twenty years, with the change in communication, the whole global reality has changed. You must have a second look at sovereignty and what it means in today’s world. When you get to the question of human rights and mass killings, you have to say, “wait a second, the world is moving more in the direction of universal human rights.” When you have countries that want to use mass killing as a strategy or are too weak to stop the violence going on, what do you do? That is where the R2P comes in. It is an evolving concept, but basically sovereignty in today’s world is no longer absolute. You can’ t do whatever you want, the world will not accept that and there are consequences, whether it is the International Court of Justice or others.

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