Mass atrocities, as defined at the 2005 United Nations World Summit, consist of at least one of the following elements: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity (Evans, p. 11). Genocide was defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such" (p. 12). These subcategories of mass atrocities can overlap and are not mutually exclusive and may simply be referred to "atrocity crimes" (p. 12). These crimes are not new and were featured in the Bible and were committed by Romans and Genghis Khan. The Peace of Westfalia in 1648 established the concept of individual statehood or sovereignty, including immunity from interference by outside powers (p. 16). Using the protection of sovereignty nations committed mass crimes against their own people with impunity.
The principle of sovereignty was perpetuated in the UN Charter of 1945, although the concept of individual human rights was also promoted in the UN Charter and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (p. 19). The holocaust trials at Nuremberg brought more attention to mass atrocities and the world swore to never again allow genocide, however states still on occasion slaughtered their citizens. The concept of Responsibility to Protect was born in the 1990s following the French declaration of the Right to Intervene in 1987 (p. 33). The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) developed the concept and published their core principles in the 2001 report “Responsibility to Protect.” The Basic Principles were that “state sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself” and “where a population is suffering serious harm…and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of nonintervention yields to the international responsibility to protect” (p. 40). Later the 2005 UN General Assembly World Summit agreed to “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity” (p. 48).
Gareth Evans, the author of the book and President and CEO of the International Crisis Group at the time of publishing, argues that despite agreement on the responsibility to protect, there is disagreement on how it should be implemented and in which cases it can be invoked. The author further argues that prevention is key and actors; such as the UN, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national governments, and intergovernmental institutions need to develop diplomatic capacity as well as the capability for military and civilian groups to respond. However, the author reiterated throughout the book that coercive (military) force should only be used in the responsibility to protect as a last resort; after all other options and means of negation have been exhausted. Military intervention should then only be implemented in accordance with the UN Charter under specific mandates passed by resolution (p. 215).
Political will is the final key ingredient in the Responsibility to Protect and lack of political will is often the reason why the world does not respond to tragedies that meet the requirements of intervention. The author comments that many lack knowledge of atrocities and sometimes lack concern for the situations they are aware of. However, he also cites surveys that show the majorities believe that the UN has the responsibility to intervene and states that decision makers need to act (p. 233). In the end, the author claims what is needed is moral and political leadership to act by those at the top (p. 241).
Gareth Evans arguments are sound and his analysis of the political process is correct, but he neglected the roles of actors that stop the UN Security Council from agreeing on the need to intervene. Russia and China are arms suppliers to most of the world and have vetoed resolutions in the UN Security Council to protect people from atrocities, as in the 2012 civil war in Syria (Spencer, 2012). Another weakness of the text is in the author’s final chapter on mobilizing political will, where he should have expounded more on mobilizing the population in favor of intervention. Generally, leaders respond to petitions from their constituents and act under pressure. The current emphasis on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the US by the NGO Invisible Children and their viral video to Stop Kony2012 has resulted in increased attention and legislative action by the US Congress to catch the leader of the LRA, who is accused of mass atrocities (Mandell, 2012).
Evans, Gareth. 2008. The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All. Brookings Institution Press: Washington DC.
Mandell, Nina. 2012. Kony 2012 video inspires House resolution. New York Daily News, 14 March 2012 http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-03-14/news/31183250_1_invisible-children-lord-s-resistance-army-ugandans
Spencer, Richard. 2012. Russia and China veto UN resolution on Syria. The Telegraph, 4 Feb 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9061622/Russia-and-China-veto-UN-resolution-on-Syria.html