by Billene Woldeyes, Ethiopia

I remember following with intensity the domino effect of the Arab Spring as it hit the North African states in early December 2010. I wondered if a transition in Libya with minimal bloodshed would be possible and for a moment upheld that idealism. Fast forward to a few months later, and state-sanctioned atrocities against citizens intensified, as did discussions on the type of response the international community would take. In what would be another controversial response by international forces the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force under the ‘Responsibility to Protect (R2P) initiative. With mixed feelings oscillating between support for the notion of preventing mass atrocities and the skepticism of a military intervention, I debated with myself on the intention and implications of R2P.

On Friday, I was pleased to come face to face with the Hon. Gareth Evans in an examination of what the concept of Responsibility to Protect entailed. In the first part of the session which explored the problems that necessitated R2P and the types of mechanisms previously utilized in responding to cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, Professor Evans provided clarity on the evolution of responses by the international community, the challenges and critiques, as well as the criteria by which the use of force can be deemed legitimate. One of the key learning points for me in this examination is the complexity in striking the balance between the three pillars of R2P where differing interests exist amongst key actors in the international community.

How different interests shape and impact the noble notion of R2P was even more evident as we broke out into a simulation that sought to find consensus on steps and measures towards the implementation of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan on the situation in Syria. This IPSI simulation explored attempts at innovative approaches in addressing the Syria question a day ahead of the actual Ministerial level meeting of the Action Group for Syria convening in Geneva. What would the key concerns of each country represented in the Action Group be? The obstacles these key concerns would present and how would they overcome them as the atrocities continue to intensify in Syria. While we clearly could not provide all the answers in our simulation, we definitely understood the real-life complexities involved.