by Larissa Alles, Germany

Generally speaking, this symposium generates significantly more questions than answers. But what it also does is to shift one’s own perspective from left to right, back and forth. Today’s session on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) by former Australian Foreign Minister and former president of the International Crisis Group, Gareth Evans, is yet another example.

Few will deny that the International Community should turn a blind eye to a state/ a ruler/ a regime that commits severe atrocities against its own people. The cases of Bosnia and Rwanda, to name just two, should be warning memory enough to emphasise the need to protect civilians from ethnic cleansing or genocide. Yet, simulating the Geneva conference this past Friday on Syria made us aware that the civilians’ needs are often the least accommodated interests in negotiations over the R2P. Stakeholders across the region and beyond, powerful trading partners as well as supporters of the opposition, all driven by their very own interests, need to agree upon a common R2P strategy. Whose interests are really protected – the pple concerned or the third and forth parties – remains often unclear.

Reminding ourselves of what previous speakers talked about during the last two weeks, the issue of including truly violent people in the negotiation process has arisen again. In order to protect people, it is often essential to also talk to those who are committing serious atrocities against others. Again, the example of Syria is clearly evident. And from an outside perspective, it is completely understandable that the Syrian opposition is denouncing any negotiation plan that includes the ruling regime. Yet, as an upcoming negotiator, we cannot take this comfortable position any more. One of the tasks for us is to bring together all the different concepts we learn about. This means that we need to consider the R2P and any possible means to avoid further criminal acts against humanity. But we are also required to initiate reconciliation processes that need to include all parties. It is not easy to do so, but it feels even harder to communicate to those affected this overarching structure of the negotiating process and the reasoning behind them.