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The Åland Peace Blog

Since the very beginning (in 1992) the Åland Islands Peace Institute has
worked with questions of security, minorities and autonomy. The purpose is
to prevent and manage conflicts, always with a gender awareness. Throughout
the years we have gathered knowledge and strengthened expertise within these
areas, and a new phase was initiated in 2007 with the development of the
Peace Institute's research and investigation capacity. The Peace Institute
arranges seminars, conferences and courses within these areas and regularly
publishes reports and books. We believe that some of the knowledge and
the insights that we acquire should be disseminated to a wider public in a
shorter and quicker form. This is why we are creating the blog. It is
knowledge-oriented and analyzes or comments briefly - but quickly -
news, events and phenomena with the purpose of providing deeper
understanding. The staff and the board of the Peace Institute will
contribute to the blog.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark
Director of the Peace Institute, Associate Professor in International Law


Sarah Stephan is a researcher at the ÅIPI and also functions as the Project Manager for the project Open Doors that is focusing on gender equality, empowerment and participation in Azerbaijan.  
Sarah's research interests include European and Public International Law, in particular post-conflict governance and multilevel governance in the European Union and beyond. 
Sarah holds an LL.M.  in Public International Law from Helsinki University and a Bachelor’s degree in European and Comparative Law from the Hanse Law School of the Universities of Bremen and Oldenburg.

Mariehamn, April 2013

“Preventive, Responsive, and Effective? The Role of Mediation in Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” – this was the title of the first of a series of lectures organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland in cooperation with the Finnish Institute for International Affairs held on 20 March 2012 in Helsinki. The seminar series is part of Finland’s efforts to increase its profile and capacity in peace mediation. The seminar was opened by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Erkki Tuomioja, followed by a keynote speech by Ed Luck, Professor and former Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Comments were provided by Professor Peter Wallensteen from Uppsala University, Member of Parliament Pekka Haavisto and Tuija Talvitie, Executive Director at the Crisis Management Initiative.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and mediation are two instruments which dominate the current debate on the international community’s capacity to manage conflicts. The relationship of the two concepts has to my knowledge not been at the forefront of attention, which makes the initiative of Finland to look at the role of mediation in the implementation of R2P all the more noteworthy. The central question at the seminar was how mediation can be effectively used by the international community to assist states to exercise the responsibility to protect.

I do not intend to summarize the seminar as a whole but would like to reflect on the development of the R2P debate to focus increasingly on the non-military aspects of the concept. Two years ago Ed Luck and MP Pekka Haavisto, who also functions as the Foreign Ministry’s Special Representative to the Horn of Africa and Sudan, spoke at a seminar organized by the Foreign Ministry and the University of Helsinki about the synergies and tensions between the R2P and the International Criminal Court. At that point of time the debate around the concept of R2P was preoccupied with the legal ramifications of international military intervention for the prevention of mass atrocities. The use of force as a response to threats to the peace, breaches of peace and acts of aggression of course remains regulated by chapter VII of the UN Charter. Only upon the decision of the Security Council, and after all attempts to solve a dispute peacefully have failed, may force be used to secure international peace and security. R2P is a project that has been devised in order to deal with the apparent deficits of this system. It responds to the international community’s failure to intervene when witnessing the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Cambodia, Srebrenica and Rwanda by introducing the idea that the international community should be obliged to do so if certain prerequisites are fulfilled. However, the very idea of R2P has then been formulated to be broader than that. According to a 2009 report by the Secretary General of the United Nations R2P should be understood to have three pillars.

  1. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
  2. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
  3. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.1

According to Ed Luck, former UN Special Adviser, the R2P is a standard and principle and a policy instrument.2 What is sought for is a conceptual shift, away from sovereignty as a right (to non-intervention) towards a prime understanding of sovereignty as responsibility. This coincides with a general trend, the transformation of the very concept of state sovereignty. In practice, sovereignty is no longer undivided and R2P suggests that it neither is unconditional. Sovereignty as such has turned into a controversial question and with it R2P remains a controversial concept. While in Libya the international community was quick to intervene, the situation was different again with regard to the ongoing conflict in Syria. The premises under which chapter VII decision are taken thus seem unchanged. Whether the international community is prepared to take collective action to protect populations remains, by and large, selective and arbitrary and is a question of national interests and power politics.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that R2P as a rather young concept3 has gained foothold quite quickly. As was pointed out at the recent seminar, the legal recognition of the concept by the African Union has given impetus to the idea. In fact, R2P is enshrined in Art. 4 (h) of the Charter of the African Union which stipulates the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Union’s Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The UN Member States have declared their continued consideration of the concept in the General Assembly’s Worlds Summit Outcome of 2005, which however is not a legally binding document.4 It was pointed out at the seminar that the concept experiences less attention in Asia and the big powers seem to have a hard time seeing its relevance for their own domestic affairs. Former Special Adviser Ed Luck has been careful to point out that it would be premature to make conclusions about such a young concept, which was introduced only slightly more than a decade ago (upon a Canadian initiative).5

What is then the link between R2P and mediation? There is no doubt that mediation is compatible with the spirit of R2P, both concepts are employed to prevent and minimize the consequences of war and armed conflict. Mediation can certainly constitute an appropriate tool to encourage and assist States in fulfilling their presumed responsibility and to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement. In accordance with chapter VI of the UN Charter, R2P departs from the premise that efforts for the peaceful settlement of conflicts remain the first response to situations where a state fails to exercise its responsibility to protect. The Secretary General in his report of July 2012 has presented mediation as a tool available for the implementation of R2P.6 At the Helsinki seminar however, I sensed a vague understanding that mediation is not only a tool for the implementation of R2P but that mediation in itself is considered to constitute an exercise of R2P, more specifically its second pillar, the international community’s responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling their R2P.

However, R2P as a concept has not been devised to promote mediation and is not a response to a lack of mediation efforts e.g. in the Balkans. The international community tends to be rather quick, although not necessarily efficient or successful, in assigning mediators to assist conflict settlement processes. Mediation might not be understood quite yet as a responsibility but it is neither understood to be interfering with the principle of non-intervention and has for that reason not been subject to the criticism of chapter VII action or rather in-action. In light of chapter VI of the UN Charter on the pacific settlement of disputes and the general popularity of mediation, the question is which added value R2P should have in this context and at this point in time. Thus far R2P did not need to be invoked in order to motivate mediation efforts. So, while mediation is a well-established concept and an instrument used with varying degrees of success, the question is not so much which the justifications of mediation are but rather how to justify and strengthen a principle in the making, R2P. Is it wise then to shift attention from pillar three to pillar two and avoid the debate about the concept’s most contested aspects, a debate which is healthy and very much necessary for any process of norm creation?

My criticism towards this shift of focus and the understanding of mediation as an exercise of R2P is twofold. Firstly, a state’s responsibility towards its own population remains equally secondary to international engagement in the current debate, irrespective of whether one talks about international mediation or military intervention. The debate continues to focus on R2P as a responsive instrument rather than its long-term preventive potential, which after all lay in its first pillar. Secondly, there’s a danger that the concept of R2P will be deprived of its aspiration to function as a remedy for the deficits of the non-intervention doctrine associated with state sovereignty. In the words of Ed Luck, it is the more “coercive dimensions of the response pillar […] that will need continuing discussion and refinement”.7

The question is whether it will do the notion of R2P any good if it is presented as an umbrella for all conflict resolution mechanisms at the disposal of the international community? If R2P is to develop into a fully-fledged, legal norm what would it add to the acquis of public international law? Instead of creating a thick conceptualization of R2P, wouldn’t it be advisable to focus on its distinct value and to discuss its links and synergies with other, distinct instruments and principles of international law?

Shifting the focus towards mediation, as one way to exercise the international community’s R2P, seems to be a rather artificial move and cannot distract from the problems that persist with regard to R2P and the dangers that lie within. Whether the notion of R2P can compel the Security Council to take action when witnessing mass atrocity crimes or whether it will be invoked selectively and by individual states in order to justify military intervention motivated by national interest remains to be seen. Likewise it remains to be seen whether appealing to the R2P can prevent states from committing mass atrocity crimes against their own populations. These are the issues that remain central.

[1] See homepage of the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide
at http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml.

[2] Edward C. Luck, The Responsibility to Protect: The First Decade, Global Responsibility to Protect 3 (2011), p. 3.

[3] See the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty on the Responsibility to Protect of December 2001 

[4]  See http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/

[5] See Edward C. Luck, The Responsibility to Protect: The First Decade, Global Responsibility to Protect 3 (2011) 1-13.

[6] Find the reports of the Secretary-General “implementing the Responsibility to Protect” of 2009 and “Responsibility to protect: timely and decisive response” of July here

and here http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/UNSG%20Report_

[7] See Edward C. Luck, The Responsibility to Protect: The First Decade, Global Responsibility to Protect 3 (2011), p. 3.


See also earlier blog articles

Susann Simolin, Internationell medling - statsdiplomati och/eller gräsrotsrörelser? (2012)

Susann Simolin, Finland vill bli en stormakt inom fredsmedling (2012)

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, What directions for the EU role in peace processes? (2012)

Susann Simolin, Är skyldighet att skydda lika med rätt att använda våld?
at http://www.peace.ax/sv/blogg-usermenu-31/620-aer-skyldighet-att-skydda-lika-med-raett-att-anvaenda-vald  (2011)

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, Skyldighet att skydda eller om att vilja göra väl men ändå göra fel (2009)

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Bloggen skrivs av Fredsinstitutets nuvarande eller tidigare personal, gästforskare och styrelseledamöter eller av inbjudna gästskribenter. Åsikterna är författarens egna.

The blog pieces are written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.