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EU commitment needed on preventing mass atrocities

The EU needs to strengthen its commitment and tools to prevent mass atrocities, such as those perpetrated in Syria, according to a new report by the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities which was co-chaired by Professor Karen E. Smith.

The report highlights that mass atrocity prevention is rarely mentioned in core EU documents despite the EU’s commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, as well as to promote human rights. Its development, conflict prevention and crisis management policies, for example, do not sufficiently focus on mass atrocities, even though these crimes threaten the achievement of the EU’s core goals.

skullsThe EU’s intelligence gathering and warning functions also do not systematically take into account the possibility of these types of crimes taking place.

The Task Force calls for the EU to make an explicit commitment to prevent mass atrocities and to incorporate this into the next update of the European Security Strategy as well as existing strategies for human rights and conflict prevention.

Professor Karen E. Smith, Professor of International Relations at LSE and Co-chair of the Task Force, said: “Mass atrocities often need a different response than conflict prevention and this is why it is important that the EU does not conflate the two. In conflict the two parties are equal, but where mass atrocities are being committed one party is culpable and must to be stopped.

“Furthermore, deadly violence can occur completely outside the context of war, as has been the case recently in Myanmar and, for some time, in North Korea.”

According to the report, the prevention of mass atrocities should be incorporated into all of the EU’s relevant activities, including its trade and development policies, through the systematic assessment of risk factors. 

This should include the prevention of these types of crimes being a standard agenda item in the EU’s dialogues with third countries that are at particular risk.

Also, arms should not be exported if there is a substantial risk that these would enable mass atrocities to be committed.

Professor Christoph Meyer, Co-chair of the Task Force and Professor of European and International Politics at King’s College London, said: “The EU has the expertise, the staying power and the resources to substantially reduce the risks of mass atrocities occurring. In order to do this, the EU needs to stop prioritising current crises and improve its ability to act early, before violence has started. This means not only long-term prevention, but also becoming more responsive to warnings, especially when these warnings are politically inconvenient.”

When prevention has failed, the Task Force recognises that sometimes military force will be needed to protect civilians from mass atrocities. However, neither the EU nor member states are currently well-equipped to launch and effectively conduct mass atrocity response operations. The Task Force asserts that any such operations must be both legal and legitimate.

Dr Chiara de Franco, the Coordinator of the Task Force and a research fellow at Kings College London, said: “Our report is a realistic assessment of what the EU could do, without great cost, to improve its capacity to prevent mass atrocities.”

The report contains six recommendations for how the EU could be better able to prevent such atrocities in the future. They are:

  1.  The EU should explicitly commit to preventing mass atrocities, matching its commitment to promoting human rights.
  2.  The EU should cultivate expertise in mass atrocity prevention and warning to enable it to focus resources and political attention on the countries and regions where they are most needed.
  3.  The EU’s warning-response system should be strengthened to improve early action against long and short-term mass atrocity risks.
  4.  The EU should employ a ‘mass atrocity lens’, by systematically incorporating the risk that mass atrocities could occur into its relations with foreign countries.
  5.  The EU’s capabilities to react quickly to mass atrocities should be improved by better contingency planning for situations of imminent and/or ongoing mass atrocities.
  6.  The EU should cooperate more closely with others to prevent mass atrocities. This should involve support for community-based early warning and response, building the capacities of other regional organisations such as NATO, the African Union and the United Nations. 

Posted: March 4 2012

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