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Pretoria Symposium on preventing atrocities and protecting civilians in Africa

The Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa, with the assistance of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) through the Africa Military Law Forum (AMLF), held a symposium at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, from 18 to 19 September 2014 on the theme: “All Means Necessary”: Bridging the Gap between the Doctrine of R2P and the Actual Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts.

The Symposium brought together over 80 high ranking military officers of African states, academics, policy makers, and other practitioners in the field of protection of civilians who discussed, shared experiences and provided lessons learnt in order to find solutions to the legal, policy, and practical challenges involved in the drafting and adoption of the mandates for the protection of civilian (PoC) by the United Nations (UN) Security Council and their implementation on the ground.

The objective of the Pretoria Symposium was to identify innovative and effective means of preventing mass atrocities, and in the event of failure to prevent, explore how the humanitarian agencies and military should protect populations at risk, pursuant to Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) and the coercive element of the third pillar of the responsibility to protect (R2P).

 

The goal of the Pretoria Symposium was to contribute to cultivating ‘culture of protection’, the reduction of the vulnerability of civilian populations, and to ensuring greater compliance with International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL)obligations as well as the specific law relating to the protection of women, girls, children, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees and other vulnerable populations in armed conflicts. The Symposium provided recommendations to guide military and humanitarian actors in the protection of civilians and prevention of mass atrocities, focusing on the African continent.

Key Legal and Policy Issues

The following are the key legal and policy issues that emerged from the Pretoria Symposium:

Providing Legal Clarity on Protection of Civilians, Article 4(h)-intervention and the Responsibility to Protect:

  • The protection norms of PoC, Article 4(h) and R2P raise concerns of misinterpretation and misuse. PoC is not only a moral imperative to save lives but it is also rooted in IHRL and IHL obligations to prevent harm to endangered civilians and ameliorate their suffering in armed conflicts.

Rationale for Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflicts:

  • States, third States, non-State actors and the international community as a whole have legal obligations to respect and ensure respect of IHRL and IHL. While IHL is lex specialis in armed conflicts, IHRL is still applicable in armed conflicts subject to derogation.

Implementation of Article 4(h)-intervention and Pillar Three of R2P in Accordance with the Law

  • Members of the UN Security Council are severally and jointly under an obligation to promote and protect human rights and humanitarian norms under the relevant treaties they are party to. The UN Security Council has the primary (but not exclusive) responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Means and Strategies for Protecting Civilians and Prevention of Atrocities

  • Conflict prevention in Africa requires country specific interventions with effective early warning and rapid response mechanisms. States should eradicate the structural causes of conflicts through, among others, strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions, reducing youth unemployment through skills development, transparency and accountability in resource management and eradicating impunity within political elites.

Protection of Specific Populations at Risk

  • States should address the root causes to eradicate the scourge of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), including addressing societal attitudes which regard women as being of lower value than men.

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts

  • Third States often do not have altruistic reasons for intervention in other countries. The best verification of right or noble intentions (recta intentio) is to avoid unilateralism and to proceed by collective, multilateral interventions.

Strengthening the Role of Humanitarian Institutions in Protection of Civilians

  • Civil Society has a crucial role to participate in, or lead the effort of, protecting civilians. Civil Society should promote awareness of protection of civilians and prevention of atrocities as well as contribute to the designing of policies and strategies and strengthening State institutions in protecting civilians and prevention of mass atrocities.

Strengthening Accountability for Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflicts

  • States should strengthen their national investigating and judicial structures to close the impunity gap.

Ensuring Accountability and Responsibility while Protecting

  • Implementation of Article 4(h) and R2P Pillar Three should focus on saving lives from mass atrocity crimes. The intervention should be limited in time and space and should not be aimed at regime change or undermining territorial integrity of the target State.
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