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The Responsibility to Protect Minorities and the Problem of the Kin-State
United Nations University
Nicholas Turner and Nanako Otsuki
April 2010
Genocide and ethnic cleansing have all too clearly demonstrated the dangers of failing to protect minority groups. A “kin-state” with strong ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic links to a minority population abroad, may be well-placed to assist in its protection. But unilateral interference by kin-states can raise tensions with host-states, endangering international peace and security.
If a state neglects its primary Responsibility to Protect minorities under its jurisdiction, the subsidiary responsibility lies with the international community as a whole, not the kin-state in particular. Kin-state interest in minorities abroad must be pursued through constructive engagement, rather than unilateral interference. At the same time, international and regional organizations must build domestic state capacity while strengthening the tools and political will to deliver timely collective responses when states fail in their responsibility. Bilateral and multilateral mechanisms alike can counter nationalist rhetoric and policies by emphasizing that a diverse, well integrated society is in the interest of both majorities and minorities.
(…) Under international law, the protection of minority rights is clearly the responsibility of the state in which they reside. States may have an interest in “kin” living abroad, but no legal right of interference. But if the host-state fails to protect a minority group or groups, what role, if any, can the kin-state play? It is in this context that we turn to the R2P norm, which is particularly relevant to the protection of vulnerable communities, and can therefore provide some guidance on the possibilities and limits for states to play a legal and legitimate role in the protection of their kin minorities abroad. (…)
Affirmed by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit, the R2P norm emerged to reconcile the seemingly intractable tensions between state sovereignty and the need for robust
action to halt genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. R2P firmly places primary responsibility for protection of peoplefrom these atrocity crimes with the
state. If the state is unwilling or unable to fulfil this responsibility, it falls to the international community to take appropriate action to protect threatened populations—with the
possibility of coercive measures including intervention. R2P can be seen as the culmination
of an evolution towards sovereignty as responsibility, away from the historical conception of sovereignty as a function of power or control over territory. Whereas in the past states could
invoke the shield of sovereignty to commit atrocities with impunity, sovereignty no longer implies a licence to kill. Unfortunately in practice there remain large gaps in the implementation
of and compliance with R2P; its only widely recognized success being Kofi Annan’s mediation in Kenya to end the post-election violence of December 2007–January 2008. At the same time, the doctrine is also vulnerable to misuse, as by Russia in the 2008 conflict with Georgia over South
Ossetia. R2P understandably attracts most attention related to its provision for intervention to halt atrocity crimes. However the R2P norm is more than a mere substitute for humanitarian intervention, rather, it entails a threefold responsibility to prevent, react, and rebuild. Here the emphasis is on the responsibility to prevent such significant abuses occurring in the first place, so intervention is not required—a priority reaffirmed in the 2009 report of the UN Secretary-General on implementing R2P. (…)
Effectively mobilizing international efforts requires accurate risk assessment and early warning for minority-related conflicts. Recognizing the need to strengthen and improve the coordination of these mechanisms within the UN system, in his 2009 report on R2P the Secretary-General proposed establishing a joint office on genocide prevention and R2P, bolstering the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. However, these initiatives will need to overcome political resistance from member states desperate to avoid such scrutiny. The Secretary-General’s report also rightly emphasizes the need to ensure the two-way exchange of information and analysis with regional organizations, bringing local knowledge and perspectives to UN decision making. Inputs from other institutions should also be incorporated, such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which acknowledged the link between discrimination and ethnic conflict by setting up an early warning mechanism for cases in which international peace and security may be at risk. Although it issued urgent warnings in the contexts of Yugoslavia and Darfur, these concerns were not acted upon until violence erupted. This underlines the need to ensure that effective early warning mechanisms are complemented with a strong capacity to implement timely, collective responses when necessary, if we are to avoid the risk of further such atrocities in future. (…)

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