Developing effective strategies to prevent mass atrocities through the Responsibility to Protect
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Unit of AssessmentPolitics and International Studies
Summary Impact TypePolitical
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Criminology
Law and Legal Studies: Law
Summary of the impact
Professor Welsh's research focuses on the responsibility of states and
international organisations to protect populations from mass atrocities,
and argues that effective protection requires preventive action in
addition to reactive responses to unfolding crimes. The research has
directly informed the UN Secretary-General's 2012 report on the
Responsibility to Protect, which shapes how UN member-states interpret
their responsibilities, and is contributing to expertise and capacity
building in the wider policy community. In recognition of the importance
and impact of her research, Professor Welsh was appointed Special Adviser
to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect
(R2P) in July 2013.
The research has been carried out at Oxford since 2002, when Welsh took
up a University Lectureship (promoted to a Professorship in 2006). The
work led to her decision to co-found the Oxford Institute for Ethics,
Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) with D. Akande and D. Rodin in 2008.
At ELAC Welsh and her team (Research Assistants S. Sharma and R. Reike,
both 2010-13) have worked to clarify the responsibilities implied by R2P
and the acts it should address, and have researched effective strategies
for mass atrocity prevention.
The principle of the Responsibility to Protect was conceived in 2001 and
endorsed by UN member states at the 2005 United Nations World Summit. It
encapsulates a commitment by states and international organisations to
protect populations from mass atrocities. The principle has three
`pillars': the responsibility of states to protect its citizens from
atrocities; the duty of the international community to assist states to do
so; and the responsibility of the international community to intervene
where a state fails to protect its citizens.
Three insights from Welsh's research have been particularly influential
in shaping policy:
1. Clarifying the nature of the responsibility
The research clarifies the nature of the R2P principle and identifies the
specific responsibilities it entails [Section 3: R1, R3]. Welsh
argues R2P is primarily a political principle (rather than a new
legal norm). It is designed to alert states to their existing legal
obligations to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes [R1, R2,
R6]. Her work shows that R2P is contested by its very nature —
particularly the third pillar of responsibility to intervene where a state
fails to protect its citizens — because it challenges other powerful
international norms such as sovereign equality and non- intervention [R6].
This insight has practical implications for the formulation and
legitimation of policies aiming to prevent mass atrocities.
2. Clarifying the nature of the acts that preventive measures
Welsh's work clarifies the nature of the acts that preventive measures
should address. She establishes the importance of distinguishing atrocity
crime prevention and conflict prevention, and argues that responsibilities
to prevent mass atrocities should focus on four specific crimes under
international law: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes
against humanity [R3, R4, R7].
3. Working toward strategies for mass atrocity prevention
Welsh's research develops a framework of systemic and targeted strategies
for atrocity crime prevention, and analyses how R2P legitimises action to
prevent such crimes [R4, R7]. It distinguishes between preventive
tools to address the three elements of a crime situation - the behaviour
of perpetrators, the vulnerability of victims, and the permissiveness of
the environment. It examines tools that can be used to target particular
crises (e.g. sanctions, mediation, fact-finding missions, no-fly-zones)
and those that are systemic across all cases (e.g. strategies to increase
long-term resilience and reduce risk factors); and it explores the limits
of a crime prevention approach, particularly the difficulty in reconciling
individual criminal liability with traditional means of resolving
conflicts among state and non-state parties. A central insight of Welsh's
work is that the R2P principle must be interpreted not merely as reactive,
but as including a responsibility to prevent. As a consequence,
responsibilities to prevent and respond should be seen as integrated, and
as flowing from the R2P principle.
References to the research
[R1] Jennifer Welsh, `The Responsibility to Protect: Securing the
Individual in International Society?', in Security and Human Rights,
edited by B. Goold and L. Lazarus (Hart Publishers, 2007)
[R2] Jennifer Welsh (and Maria Banda), `International Law and The
Responsibility to Protect: Clarifying or Expanding States'
Responsibilities?', Global Responsibility to Protect, Vol. 2
[R3] Jennifer Welsh, `Implementing the Responsibility to Protect:
Where Expectations Meet Reality', Ethics and International Affairs,
Vol. 24 (2010)
[R4] Jennifer Welsh, `Civilian Protection in Libya: Putting
Coercion and Controversy back into RtoP', Ethics and International
Affairs, Vol. 25 (2011)
[R5] Jennifer Welsh, `A Normative Case for Pluralism: Reassessing
Vincent's Views on Humanitarian Intervention', International Affairs
Vol. 87, No. 5 (2011)
[R7] ELAC working paper. The Responsibility to Prevent: A
Strategic Framework, co-authored by Welsh and ELAC researchers
Sharma and Reike.
An indicator of the quality of Welsh's research is the number of large,
competitively awarded grants that fund the work including: £616,000 core
funding for ELAC (2008-2012) from the Oxford Martin School (internal peer
reviewed fund); £100,000 for Developing Targeted and Systemic
Strategies from the Australian Government (Jan 2010-April 2012);
£60,000 for The Preventive Toolbox: Systematizing Policy Tools for the
Prevention of Mass Atrocities from the Australian Civil and Military
Centre; and £32,776 as part of a larger joint grant for Human
Rights for Future Generations: from Theory to Practice (since
January 2013) from the Oxford Martin School.
Details of the impact
Welsh's research on the responsibility of states and international
organisations to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes has had a
significant impact on the policy of the UN and its member states and on
expertise and capacity building within the wider R2P policy community. Her
research insights were a critical consideration in her appointment as
Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to
Protect in 2013.
1. Promoting an understanding of prevention and response as
integrated aspects of R2P policies
Welsh is one of the leading authorities on R2P. Her work on the
clarification of the R2P responsibilities of states, the nature of the
crimes that R2P should address, and her arguments that prevention and
response should be integrated in R2P policies, have led to discussions with
policy makers at the highest level, including:M
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, culminating in Welsh's appointment
as Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect in 2013;
- UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng in
- UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on R2P (at the time) Edward
Luck and Gareth Evans the former foreign minister of Australia (one of
the original authors of the R2P principle) in 2008;
- High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organisation for
Security and Co- operation in Europe (OSCE) (at the time) Knut Vollebaek
and his advisers in 2012 [C1];
- The Policy Committee of the European Parliament in a special session
on R2P dedicated to formulating policy on the implementation of R2P
after Libya (March 2012) [See R4];
- Policy makers within the UK, through consultations with officials in
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2008.
2. Shaping UN policy to integrate prevention and response,
and UN definitions of the crimes to which R2P applies
One of Welsh's central research contributions is to clarify how mass
atrocities can be prevented by the systemic and targeted use of preventive
tools and by integrating preventive action and response [R4, R7].
This analysis is reflected in the UN Secretary General's 2012 report, Responsibility
to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response. The report departs from
previous reports on the issue and reflects Welsh's research in emphasising
the key insight that prevention and response are closely connected and
must be structured to support each other [C2]. Thus, it examines
the range of tools available under the third (response) pillar and the
close connection between prevention and response [C3]. The report
explicitly notes that, `[s]ome may consider that prevention and
response are at opposite ends of the spectrum. In practice, however, the
two often merge..... It may be argued that the first two pillars of the
implementation strategy address prevention, and the third, response. The
dividing lines are, however, not so clear in practice' (paragraph
11). Furthermore, `[e]ffective action under the first and second
pillar may make action under the third pillar unnecessary. Pillar three
action should also contribute to the future achievement of first pillar
goals ... an informed and calibrated response can serve preventive goals
as well' (paragraph 15) [C3]. The prevention of atrocity
crimes (as opposed to the reactive response to unfolding mass atrocities)
is now a key consideration for the UN. Welsh's research made a substantial
contribution in shaping that objective [R7].
Welsh's work on the nature of the crimes that R2P should address is
currently informing revisions of the Framework of Analysis used by
the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.
Initially the framework, which is a policy tool to support the assessment
of risk, was limited to genocide. Drawing on developments from R2P, it is
being revised to include three further types of mass atrocities: ethnic
cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity [C4].
3. Shaping acceptance of the integration of prevention and
response in R2P policies by UN member states
Through its impact on the UN Secretary General's report, Welsh's research
has shaped UN member-states' acceptance of the need to develop the
preventive dimension in policies to mitigate the risk of mass atrocity
crimes and to integrate the use of preventive tools with response. This is
evidenced by the General Assembly debate of the report on September 5,
2012 in which UN member-states expressed strong support for the insight
that prevention and response are interconnected and that R2P's third
pillar has an important preventive component (only some of these can be
reported here). As Denmark stressed: `Running through all three pillars
is an absolute commitment to prevention: prevention of an initial
outbreak of a crisis or conflict, prevention of its continuation and
escalation, and prevention of recurrence ... Prevention is part of
response. Prevention and response are thus mutually reinforcing, and
elements of both must be integrated.' The Republic of Korea noted
that, `one should not draw too sharp a distinction between prevention
and response...the three pillars are not sequential and are of equal
importance; without all three, the concept would be incomplete.'
Estonia concurred with the conclusions of the report on `the proximity
of the prevention and response sides of the R2P implementation.... The
International Criminal Court (ICC) ... is an example of one of the R2P
tools where the response and prevention sides of the implementation
strategy may merge, illustrating thus that strict sequencing the R2P
pillars would not be useful.' Direct reference to the use of
preventive tools is also made in the response of the Netherlands, which
stresses that `commissions of enquiry, mediation, sanctions, arms
embargoes, referral to the ICC and civil missions are all important
instruments in such a toolbox' [C2,C5].
4. Contributing to policy expertise and capacity building
Welsh's research has contributed in multiple ways to policy expertise and
capacity building in the wider community of policy institutes and NGOs
that focus on the prevention of mass atrocities. The Global Centre for the
Responsibility to Protect uses Welsh's research in its own policy forums
to focus the discussion with policy makers on preventive tools as a means
to make R2P policies effective. The Centre considers Welsh's work to be
one of the few resources available to support debate on prevention [C6].
Similarly, the Stanley Foundation stresses the benefits of Welsh's
research in structuring its work with policy actors on preventing the
perpetration of mass atrocity crimes. The Asia-Pacific Centre for the
Responsibility to Protect has reproduced Welsh's research findings in its
own policy briefs and regards the ELAC project as the most robust and
policy- relevant of the 14 projects funded by the Australian R2P fund [C7,C8].
In sum, Welsh's research is shaping the approach to prevention and
response of mass atrocities by the UN, its member states and the wider
policy community. This has implications for the choices of states and
international organisations that may invest lives and resources to prevent
mass atrocities, for populations at risk, and the perpetrators of such
crimes. The reach and significance of the impact of Professor Welsh's
research is evidenced by her appointment in July 2013 by the UN
Secretariat as Special Adviser to Ban Ki-moon, at the Assistant Secretary
General Level [C9, C10].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[C1] Former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities confirms
discussion with Welsh of her research on R2P.
[C2] Former Special Adviser (R2P) at the Assistant
Secretary-General level confirms the contribution of the research to the
UN's 2012 report `Timely and Decisive Response' and to the debate at the
General Assembly that followed.
[C3] UN Secretary-General's report on `Responsibility to Protect:
Timely and Decisive Response'. Introduction to the report: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/874,
[C4] Framework of analysis of atrocity crimes. Reviewed to reflect
R2P research insights from http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/pdf/osapg_analysis_framework.pdf.
[C5] The UN General Assembly's held an interactive dialogue of 5th
September 2012. All the government statements made in response to the
report can be found here: http://www.globalr2p.org/resources/278.
[C6] Director of Policy and Advocacy describes the benefit to the
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect particularly in regard to
the analysis of preventive tools.
[C7] Director of the Asia Pacific Centre on benefits to his
organisation of the policy clarification and the value of ELAC's research
amongst the 14 Australian funded R2P projects.
[C8] Jennifer Welsh and Serena Sharma, R2P Ideas in Brief:
Operationalizing the Responsibility to Prevent (Asia-Pacific Centre,
R2P Policy Briefing, 2012) Vol. 2 No. 2 (2012) http://www.r2pasiapacific.org/r2p-ideas-in-brief.
[C9] Under Secretary-General, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention
of Genocide. Confirmation that R2P research contributed to Welsh being
short-listed for the role.
[C10] UN Press Release Secretary-General Appoints Jennifer Welsh
of Canada Special Adviser http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/sga1424.doc.htm.