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Mass Atrocities in Ethiopia and Myanmar: The Case for 'Harm Mitigation' in R2P Implementation



By combining insights from the three dominant perspectives in International Relations-liberalism, realism, and anti-imperialism-a novel approach is put forward, that of 'harm mitigation'. A comparative analysis of Ethiopia and Myanmar reveals that the international community still does not possess the mechanisms to halt mass atrocities in real time. When enforcing R2P, none of the available non-coercive and coercive policy options are pragmatically or ethically unassailable. The non-coercive tools that can be labelled as 'ethical' , such as diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and documenting atrocities, while important, are largely ineffective at stopping atrocities as they happen. Much like UN peacekeeping, these non-coercive actions are limited by targeted governments invoking the principle of state sovereignty. Meanwhile, actions that are potentially expedient, such as economic sanctions, military intervention, and supporting rebel groups, are ethically thorny. The conclusions speak to the reality that both non-intervention and intervention have the potential to cause human suffering. Keywords R2P-mass atrocities-sovereignty-Ethiopia-Myanmar Global Responsibility to Protect (2022) 1-42 © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2022 |
Mass Atrocities in Ethiopia and Myanmar: The Case
for ‘Harm Mitigation’ in R2P Implementation
Patrick Wight
Lecturer, International Development Studies, McGill University,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Senior Editor, Ethiopia Insight
Yuriko Cowper-Smith
Research and Engagement Ocer, The Sentinel Project for Genocide
Prevention, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
By combining insights from the three dominant perspectives in International Relations
– liberalism, realism, and anti-imperialism – a novel approach is put forward, that
of ‘harm mitigation’. A comparative analysis of Ethiopia and Myanmar reveals that
the international community still does not possess the mechanisms to halt mass
atrocities in real time. When enforcing R2P, none of the available non-coercive and
coercive policy options are pragmatically or ethically unassailable. The non-coercive
tools that can be labelled as ‘ethical’, such as diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and
documenting atrocities, while important, are largely inefective at stopping atrocities
as they happen. Much like UN peacekeeping, these non-coercive actions are limited by
targeted governments invoking the principle of state sovereignty. Meanwhile, actions
that are potentially expedient, such as economic sanctions, military intervention, and
supporting rebel groups, are ethically thorny. The conclusions speak to the reality that
both non-intervention and intervention have the potential to cause human sufering.
R2P – mass atrocities – sovereignty – Ethiopia – Myanmar
    () –
©  , , |:./--©  , , |:./--
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1 Introduction
[I]f humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sov-
ereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross
and systematic violations of human rights that ofend every precept of
our common humanity?
Ko Annan voiced this concern over 20 years ago, and, unfortunately, these ten-
sions remain largely unresolved despite the formulation of the Responsibility
to Protect (R2P) doctrine in 2005. There are many serious candidates for R2P
interventions worldwide where little action has been taken. Two such situa-
tions are the ongoing crises in Ethiopia and Myanmar. In Ethiopia, evidence
suggests that all warring parties have committed war crimes and crimes against
humanity, while acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide have been committed
in Tigray. In Myanmar, the Rohingya community has been severely perse-
cuted, with the atrocities committed against them culminating in what many
scholars and observers call genocide.
Ethiopia and Myanmar are clear examples where the government has failed
to protect a minority group and is, in fact, the primary source of their insecu-
rity. Yet no explicit action under R2P has been taken in any meaningful way in
either case. However, even if there were sucient political will, it is unclear
what steps can and should be taken. This demonstrates that despite moralistic
rhetoric over R2P, the international community is still ill-equipped to respond
to mass atrocities. This inertia is explained by a general lack of political will
to act, the fact that governments tend to act based on national interests, the
reality that the actions of states are limited or determined by existing power
dynamics in the international system, and certain practical realities that lead
to complications even if they want to act.
The current theoretical paradigm in International Relations pits liberal
humanitarians, who are proponents of R2P and focus on international diplo-
macy, against realists and anti-imperialists, who argue that powerful states
often instrumentalise human rights mechanisms to violate sovereignty and
that certain R2P interventions may cause more problems than they resolve.
1 Kofi Annan, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century: Millennium
Report of the Secretary General of the United Nations, United Nations Digital Library,
A/54/2000, 27 March 2000.
2 Girmay M., ‘The Record Shows There is Genocide in Tigray’, Ethiopia Insight, 21 March 2022.
3 The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, ‘Burma Risk Assessment’, September 2013;
Maung Zarni and Alice Cowley, ‘The Slow-burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya’,
Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal, 23(3) 681–752 (2014).
wight and cowper-smith
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By combining insights from these perspectives, we produce a theory of inter-
vention geared towards ‘harm mitigation’. This approach recognises that real-
ists and anti-imperialists are correct when they say that power and interests
drive international afairs, and that sovereignty should, in most instances, be
safeguarded. All too often, liberal humanitarians fail to recognise that states
are risk-averse, rarely intervene solely based on moral imperatives, and, even
when they do, often make matters worse as idealistic notions clash with reali-
ties on the ground. However, it remains dangerous to cynically frame any and
all actions to enforce international law as neo-imperialist or undue infringe-
ments on the sovereign rights of states.
We use the harm mitigation approach to conduct a comparative analysis
of Ethiopia and Myanmar. These two cases are analysed to bridge the divide
between these divergent perspectives and to understand how states and mul-
tilateral institutions can respond to human rights abuses in a manner that
reduces human sufering. Using the three R2P pillars as a framework, some of
the most consequential non-coercive and coercive interventions are debated.
We argue that non-coercive solutions, such as preventive diplomacy, deliv-
ering humanitarian aid, enhancing data-gathering capabilities, and public
advocacy, are much less morally problematic but are inefective in stopping
human rights abuses in real time. Ethiopia and Myanmar demonstrate how
these non-military policy options also face issues of implementation owing
to a continuing tendency to defer to state sovereignty. Given these dilemmas,
non-intervention may be the simplest answer, but inaction can allow entire
communities to be destroyed, such as Tigrayans in Ethiopia and Rohingyas in
Coercive solutions are potentially more efective but present ethical dilem-
mas and risk causing disastrous blowback. Ethiopia and Myanmar demon-
strate that economic sanctions are inefective in pressuring governments to
stop committing atrocities. Broad-based sanctions also risk unduly punish-
ing civilians who are not responsible for their government’s abuses. In either
case, external actors have not called for military intervention on humanitarian
grounds. Events in Tigray demonstrate that a well-armed rebel group can efec-
tively stop genocidal violence against a given community, but may also commit
abuses. In Myanmar, the Rohingya community has not mounted a signicant
military ofensive, and its members remain victims of a genocidal campaign
with no protection. While preferable, United Nations (UN) or regional peace-
keeping is limited by the need to secure host state consent.
Thus, viewed within this framework, the two cases demonstrate that all
possible responses are pragmatically and ethically thorny. Non-coercive inter-
ventions are relatively unassailable from an ethical standpoint but do little to
mass atrocities in ethiopia and myanmar
    () -|./--
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stop abuses in real time and are inhibited by targeted governments. UN peace-
keeping, which is premised on cooperation, also faces barriers tied to state
sovereignty. Coercive interventions may be more efective in stopping ongoing
crimes, but introduce a moral dilemma and risk exacerbating human sufer-
ing. Meanwhile, non-intervention is the most straightforward approach, but
it would mean standing by while state actors commit abuses. Faced with this
challenging reality, we argue that the R2P doctrine can be more efective when
it is framed as a pragmatic approach that seeks to lessen the chance of needless
human sufering. At least part of the answer lies in, for the most part, disasso-
ciating R2P from potentially harmful coercive and military policy approaches.
The problem is that, in doing so, the international community is left with few
viable policy options. The unsatisfying conclusion is that there is always an
ethical price tag to intervention and non-intervention.
This article starts with a discussion of realism, liberalism, and anti-imperi-
alism in the context of R2P and outlines our conceptual framework of harm
mitigation. A description of our comparative methodology follows. We then
apply our framework to Ethiopia and Myanmar, by rst detailing what actions
have already been taken that are consistent with the principles of R2P and
then ofering a comparative analysis that debates what should have been done
through the lens of our harm mitigation framework.
2 The Potential for Harm Mitigation
When liberal humanitarian scholars and practitioners rst conceptualised
R2P, this doctrine held great promise to overcome the barriers posed by state
sovereignty. During the 1990s, the inability to apply international legal respon-
sibilities revealed a gap between theory and practice. Humanitarian interven-
tion was disastrously applied in Somalia in 1993, largely absent in Rwanda and
Srebrenica in 1994, and controversially applied in Kosovo in 1999. After Kosovo,
David Chandler writes, advocates of intervention lamented the perception of
being ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t’. The dilemma is that inter-
vention can mean violating the UN Charter and international law by under-
mining traditional norms of state sovereignty, while non-intervention means
doing nothing and thus being complicit in human rights abuses.
After R2P was adopted at the 2005 UN Summit, the prevailing norm of
state sovereignty now holds that each state has the responsibility to guard
4 David Chandler, ‘R2P or Not R2P? More Statebuilding, Less Responsibility’, Global
Responsibility to Protect, 2, 161–166 (2010), p. 162.
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its population from war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing,
and genocide. R2P represents a shift in the modern understanding of sover-
eignty, from a state-centred interpretation that emphasises territorial integ-
rity and non-intervention to one that is increasingly focused on individual
rights, such as the protection of civilians from atrocities. Where early warning
mechanisms have failed, the UN is required to use the appropriate diplomatic,
humanitarian, and military means – as outlined in Chapters  and  of the
UN Charter – to protect endangered populations.
The central academic and policy debates focus on how best to implement
R2P, identifying the impediments to operationalising its principles, and assess-
ing the real-world implications of intervention or non-intervention. Actions
that can be taken under R2P range from non-coercive strategies such as
strengthening state capacity through economic assistance, rule of law reform,
building inclusive political institutions, economic sanctions, arms embargoes,
peacekeeping, and referring perpetrators to the International Criminal Court
(), to the most forceful, which include military intervention that is brought
forward through the UN Security Council.
The debate around R2P implementation is polarised between supporters
of humanitarian intervention, which in practice is at times driven by ulterior
motives, and anti-interventionists, many of whom expect external actors to do
virtually nothing in response to state repression and mass atrocities. As sup-
porters of R2P principles, liberal theorists operate from the premise that the
rules and norms promoted by international organisations make cooperation
more efective and reduce the likelihood of violent conict. Liberals gener-
ally believe that interventions are rooted in humanitarian principles and that
5 Genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are defined in various instruments of
international law such as the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols,
and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (). Ethnic cleansing is
currently not an independent crime under international law and it is not defined like the
other three crimes. Read more here:
6 Ramesh Thakur, ‘Intervention, Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect: Lessons from
the ’, Security Dialogue, 33(3) 323–340 (2002), p. 323.
7 Elizabeth O’Shea, ‘Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in Libya: Ghosts of the Past Haunting the
Future’, International Human Rights Law Review, 1(1) 173–190 (2012).
8 Ray Kiely, ‘Intervention – Imperialism or Human Rights?’, 20 October 2014, https://www, accessed 21 August
9 Béquer Seguin, ‘Imperialists for “Human Rights”’, Jacobin, 19 December 2014.
mass atrocities in ethiopia and myanmar
    () -|./--
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human rights violations should be dealt with by an international legal system
that, in certain instances, can override national laws.
Yet, power and self-interest, realists contend, are the prime determinants
of international afairs. In a classic realist model, all states are constrained by
an anarchic international system and must continually accumulate power to
defend their interests regardless of ideological preferences or ocial norms
of behaviour. Realists often treat states or regimes as the primary players
in international relations and see sovereignty – meaning the state’s ability to
enforce governance decisions within its territory and to defend its autonomy
from external threats – as the main pillar of the international system. Thus,
for most realists, interventions are driven by realpolitik rather than moralis-
tic principles or international law, and the national laws of states are the best
way to protect human rights. One branch of realist thought known as ‘liberal
international regime realism’ views the world the same way as classical real-
ists, but difers in that international agreements, institutions, and treaties are
believed to mitigate power conicts, and ameliorate crises through humani-
tarian aid.
Academics who espouse anti-imperialist views often portray R2P as a
Western invention that reects global power imbalances and promotes a form
of neo-imperialism. Power struggles between the United States (US) and
the Soviet Union typically drove international interventions during the Cold
War. Now, liberal humanitarians claim, interventions are motivated by more
altruistic goals related to international cooperation and human rights. Anti-
imperialists counter that these interventions continue to be undertaken by
self-interested actors. Under these conditions, ethical justications for inter-
vention risk becoming an ideological cover for ‘imperialism, pre-emptive war,
or other ulterior motives’.
10 Matthew Downhour, ‘The Illiberalism of Regime Change as Foreign Policy’, 6 April 2020,,
accessed 1 August 2021.
11 Jeremy Moses, ‘Sovereignty as Irresponsibility? A Realist Critique of the Responsibility to
Protect’, Review of International Studies, 39(1) 113–135 (2012).
12 Fernando R. Teson, ‘The Kantian Theory of International Law’, Columbia Law Review, 92(1)
53–102 (1992).
13 Howard Adelman, ‘Refugees, s and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P): The Case of
Darfur’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 2(1) 127–148 (2010), p. 144.
14 Samir Amin, ‘U.S. Imperialism, Europe and the Middle East’, Monthly Review, 1 November
15 Roland Paris, ‘The “Responsibility to Protect” and the Structural Problems of Preventive
Humanitarian Intervention’, International Peacekeeping, 21(5) 569–603 (2014), p. 574.
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In recent decades, anti-imperialist approaches have gained prominence
within genocide studies. As Philip Spencer explains, this approach ‘places
genocide in a broader historical framework, tracing the dynamics of imperial
conquest, accompanied and legitimated by racist ideology, to show how gen-
ocides recur over time’. Jean Bricmont details how human rights norms have
been used since the end of the Cold War to justify intervention by the world’s
leading economic and military powers. In this perspective, the US, supported
by other Western powers, has been the leading player in initiating military and
ostensibly humanitarian interventions.
Realists and anti-imperialists ofer compelling arguments for safeguard-
ing state sovereignty. Most notably, sovereignty helps to limit the aggression
of powerful states against weaker ones. Sovereignty embodies collective self-
determination and allows domestic groups to ensure that laws reect local
cultures, religions, traditions, and ethical standards. States born out of decol-
onisation are proud of their hard-won sovereignty and are justiably wary of
Western interventions. Permitting ostensibly humanitarian interventions
may provide avenues for powerful actors to manipulate the language of human
rights to further their interests.
However, absolute deference to sovereignty would locate the state or regime,
unconstrained by internal or external checks, as the ultimate seat of authority.
Given the cultural diversity that characterises most states, perceptions of gov-
ernmental or territorial legitimacy rarely conform neatly to political borders.
In practice, repressive regimes are often populated by elites whose practices
have a tenuous connection, at best, to indigenous cultures. Many politi-
cians are adept at employing anti-imperialist arguments to create diplomatic
16 Ray Kiely, Rethinking Imperialism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
17 Philip Spencer, ‘Imperialism, Anti-Imperialism and the Problem of Genocide, Past and
Present’, History, 98(332) 606–622 (2013).
18 Jean Bricmont, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 2006).
19 Ray Bush, Giuliano Martiniello, and Claire Mercer, ‘Humanitarian Imperialism, Review of
African Political Economy, 38(129) 357–365 (2011).
20 Francis Deng, ‘From “Sovereignty as Responsibility” to the “Responsibility to Protect”’,
Global Responsibility to Protect, 2(1) 353–370 (2010); Edward Luck, ‘Sovereignty, Choice and
the Responsibility to Protect’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 1(1) 10–21 (2009), p. 17.
21 Eva Piirimäe, ‘Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Human Rights from Walzer to the
Responsibility to Protect’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 10(4) 393–419 (2018).
22 Thakur, ‘Intervention, Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect’, p. 328.
23 Jack Donnelly, ‘Cultural Relativism and Human Rights’, Human Rights Quarterly, 6(4)
400–419 (1984).
mass atrocities in ethiopia and myanmar
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impasses and deect legitimate criticism. Appeals by politicians to cultural
relativism are commonly used to justify authoritarianism and to undermine
marginalised groups’ human rights.
The conceptual framework of harm mitigation responds to concerns
voiced by liberals, realists, and anti-imperialists. Similar to anti-imperial-
ists, we recognise that powerful states can wield instruments of interna-
tional law based on their self-interest. A realist perspective is also crucial to
understanding current geopolitics; American unipolarity is waning and the
expansion of Chinese power is creating a multipolar system, with superpow-
ers vying for predominance. Yet, as liberals contend, it is nonetheless danger-
ous to frame genuine actions to enforce international law as neo-imperialist
infringements on the sovereign rights of states. This tension reveals a need to
apply the utilitarian principles of harm mitigation within a liberal interna-
tional regime realist framework, while also being attentive to anti-imperialist
3 Comparative Methodology
This article uses a comparative case study approach and frames the analysis
around four interrelated research questions. First, we ask, what actions have
been taken that are consistent with the principles of R2P in Ethiopia and
Myanmar? To respond, we examine some of the most consequential policy
tools under the three pillars of R2P, and diferentiate between non-coercive
and coercive interventions. Under non-coercive policy tools, we discuss: (1)
diplomatic responses, (2) humanitarian assistance, (3) collecting data and
documenting crimes, and (4) public advocacy and strengthening civil society.
Under coercive policy tools, we analyse: (1) economic sanctions, (2) military
intervention with or without UN approval, (3) UN and regional peacekeeping,
and (4) supporting local armed resistance.
Next, we ask, why has so little action been taken thus far to address the
atrocities in Ethiopia and Myanmar? This involves an analysis of the barriers at
all levels that have inhibited efective responses in these two contexts. A third
question addressed is, what actions should have been taken to end atrocities in
real time? We conduct a comparative analysis of the two cases and suggest how
an approach based on the principle of harm mitigation would involve contin-
ually assessing the potential of both non-coercive and coercive interventions
to cause or alleviate human sufering. Finally, we ask, what do these two cases
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indicate about how R2P can be salvaged, and its related policies amended, in
ways that minimise human sufering?,
4 The Cases of Ethiopia and Myanmar
4.1 Background to the Ethiopia Case
The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front () came to power in Addis Ababa
after it, along with Eritrean and other rebels, overthrew the brutal military
regime of Mengistu Hailemariam in 1991. Over the next 27 years, the Ethiopian
People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front () ruling coalition failed con-
siderably on democracy and human rights, but produced an era of economic
growth and human development. Although Tigrayans are only some 6–8 per
cent of Ethiopia’s population, Tigrayan elites maintained outsized inuence
at all levels of the state. The ’s history of authoritarian and minority-
dominated rule bred resentment in many Ethiopian communities. A plan to
expand the capital city further into parts of Oromia set of a wave of protests
in 2015 that spread to the Amhara region and were met with state violence.
The protest movement ultimately forced the head of government,
Hailemariam Desalegn, to step down in 2018. The , as the core element in
the ruling party and security sector, devised a reform agenda before stepping
aside and returning to its regional stronghold in Tigray. When Abiy Ahmed
was selected as prime minister in April 2018, he initially pursued a reform
agenda that included releasing political prisoners, letting formerly banned
groups back into the country, and normalising relations with Eritrea. Renewed
24 Dr Patrick Wight spent 18 months conducting research for his Ph.D. dissertation in Ethiopia
on the sidelines of the South Sudan peace process from 2014 to 2019. During that time, he
engaged with policymakers, researchers, organisational officials, and other experts on the
Horn of Africa, along with Ethiopians from all walks of life. He has conducted extensive
research and held countless discussions with international experts since Ethiopia’s civil
war broke out in November 2020. He is a lecturer at McGill University and a senior editor
at Ethiopia Insight.
25 Dr Yuriko Cowper-Smith studied the Rohingya-led social movement in Canada for her
Ph.D. dissertation. She gathered information between 2017 and 2019 in Ontario, Canada,
by interviewing and engaging in participant observation with the Rohingya community.
In 2018, she visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. She is the research and
engagement officer at The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention.
26 Alex de Waal, ‘July 2021 Employee of the Month: Abiy Ahmed’, 19 July 2021, https://sites,
accessed 1 August 2021.
27 Terje Østebø, ‘Analysis: The Role of the Qeerroo in the Future of Oromo Politics’, Addis
Standard, 26 May 2020.
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demonstrations led to mass arrests of protesters and key Oromo political g-
ures, most notably Jawar Mohammed.
Intent to weaken the ’s inuence, Abiy targeted Tigrayans in positions
of power for dismissal and arrest. In 2019, Abiy fused Ethiopia’s regional ruling
parties into a unitary Prosperity Party that  ocials refused to join. In
June 2020, federal authorities delayed national elections, citing the -19
pandemic.  ocials rejected the constitutional legitimacy of this deci-
sion. Tensions reached a boiling point after Tigray held a regional election in
September 2020, in deance of the federal government. Abiy responded by
declaring the newly elected  leadership illegitimate and cutting of fed-
eral funding to Tigray.
On 3–4 November 2020, claiming that troop movements indicated a federal
attack was imminent, the  forcibly overtook the federal military bases in
Tigray. Addis Ababa responded by sending the rest of Ethiopia’s military into
Tigray, backed by the Eritrean army and Amhara regional forces and militias. A
massacre in a town called Mai Kadra in the rst days of the war, reportedly of
229 people, was initially attributed in full to Tigrayan militias. Later reports
indicate that Amhara civilians were targeted during armed clashes, with
Tigrayans then being subject to retaliatory violence and a systematic campaign
of forced expulsion in the area.
The federal army and its allies were initially successful in crippling the
Tigrayan forces, which were reconstituted as the Tigray Defence Forces ().
Abiy declared that the war was over on 28 November 2020, after the Ethiopian
army drove the  out of Mekelle and set up a new regional administration.
Tigrayans overwhelmingly perceived the federal army as an occupying force
and were galvanised by reports of widespread atrocities to support the armed
resistance. After ghting a guerrilla war from rural areas for eight months, the
 launched Operation Alula in June 2021 and recaptured much of Tigray.
28 Jawar Mohammed, ‘How Ethiopia’s Transition to Democracy Derailed’, Awash Post, 28
October 2020.
29 , ‘Ethiopia’s Tigray War: The Short, Medium and Long Story’, 29 June 2021.
30 Reuters, ‘Inside a Military Base in Ethiopia’s Tigray: Soldiers Decry Betrayal by Former
Comrades’, 17 December 2020.
31 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, ‘We Will Erase You from This Land’:
Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone (United
States: Human Rights Watch, 2022).
32 Katharine Houreld, Michael Georgy, and Silvia Aloisi, ‘How Ethnic Killings Exploded from
an Ethiopian Town, Reuters, 7 June 2021.
33 International Crisis Group, ‘As Ethiopian Troops Exit Tigray, Time to Focus on Relief’, 9
July 2021,
tigray-time-focus-relief, accessed 15 July 2021.
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Federal troops were forced to withdraw from Tigray and Abiy declared a
unilateral ceasere, but in reality imposed a siege on Tigray. The  tabled
many conditions for the ceasere to be formalised, including the withdrawal of
Eritrean and Amhara forces from the region, the restoration of public services
such as electricity, communications, and banking, unimpeded humanitarian
access, and to restore Tigray’s pre-war territorial integrity. Abiy responded to
this setback by mobilising armed forces from the country’s other regions to
ght in Tigray. The  launched an ofensive into Afar and Amhara regions,
which led to reports of atrocities.
The Ethiopian army and its allies are accused of committing extrajudi-
cial killings, conducting indiscriminate bombings, and shelling of civilian
areas, and destroying homes, factories, schools, hospitals, and cultural sites.
Massacres of Tigrayans, often in the hundreds, reportedly took place in Mariam
Dengelat, Mahbere Dego, Axum, Debre Abay, Temben, Idaga Hamus, Adigrat,
and Bora, among others. A research project at Ghent University overseen by
Jan Nyssen has recorded over 150 massacre sites in Tigray and, in March 2022,
estimated that as many as 500,000 people have died as a result of the ghting,
massacres, and excess death.
The World Peace Foundation has detailed how starvation has been used
as a weapon of war against Tigrayans in rebel-controlled areas. Ethiopian
and Eritrean belligerents in Tigray comprehensively dismantled the region’s
economy, health care infrastructure, and food systems. In a region where
80 per cent of people are subsistence farmers, invading forces engaged in the
34 Abdi Latif Dahir, ‘“My Blood is Boiling”: War Fever Surges in Ethiopia as its Civil War
Spreads’, New York Times, 22 August 2021.
35 Zecharias Zelalem, ‘“They Are Out for Revenge”: Evidence of War Crimes as Rebels Roar
Out of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region’, The Telegraph, 17 August 2021; Amnesty International,
Ethiopia: Summary Killings, Rape and Looting by Tigrayan Forces in Amhara (London:
Amnesty International, 2022).
36 Laetitia Bader, ‘The Latest on the Crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region’, 30 July 2021, https://, accessed 1 August
37 Jason Burke, ‘Ethiopia: 1900 People Killed in Tigray Identified’, The Guardian, 2 April 2021.
38 Jan Nyssen, et al., ‘Launch of ‘Tigray: Atlas of the Humanitarian Crisis’, http://www, accessed 1 September 2021; Geoffrey
Yorke, ‘Tigray War Has Seen up to Half a Million Dead from Violence and Starvation, Say
Researchers’, The Globe and Mail, 14 March 2022.
39 World Peace Foundation, ‘Starving Tigray: How Armed Conflict and Mass Atrocities have
Destroyed an Ethiopian Region’s Economy and Food System and are Threatening Famine,
6 April 2021.
40 Hailay Gesesew, et al., ‘The Impact of War on the Health System of the Tigray Region in
Ethiopia: An Assessment’, BMJ Global Health, 6(11) 1–7 (2021); Hagos Godefay, ‘Data Shows
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collective destruction of farming equipment, stole crops and livestock, and
impeded farmers from ploughing or harvesting. As a consequence, the US
Agency for International Development () estimated in August 2021 that
900,000 people in Tigray faced famine conditions, while nearly the entire pop-
ulation required food aid. Widespread destruction of health facilities and
other infrastructure has also taken place in Amhara and Afar.
Ethiopian and Eritrean security forces have employed rape as a weapon
of war. Invading soldiers have subjected thousands of Tigrayans – primarily
women and girls – to rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, and mutilation. The
abject inhumanity exhibited, and the pattern of rape, indicate that sexual vio-
lence was intended to torture the victims and humiliate their ethnic group.
Tigray forces have also been accused of committing widespread rape in Amhara
and Afar. Some 90,000 Eritrean refugees who were in Tigray before the war
have been subject to physical attacks and sexual violence from Ethiopian,
Eritrean, and Tigrayan forces.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Amhara
regional forces and militias of waging a systematic campaign of ethnic cleans-
ing in Western Tigray during which as many as 723,000 Tigrayans have been
displaced. At the war’s outset, about 30 per cent of administrative Tigray was
Siege and Destruction of Health Systems are Causing Preventable Deaths in Tigray’,
Ethiopia Insight, 26 January 2022.
41 Tom Dannenbaum, ‘Famine in Tigray, Humanitarian Access, and the War Crime of
Starvation’, 26 July 2021,
humanitarian-access-and-the-war-crime-of-starvation/, accessed 1 August 2021;
Teklehaymanot Weldemichel, ‘Inventing Hell: How the Ethiopian and Eritrean Regimes
Produced Famine in Tigray’, Human Geography (online), 18 November 2021, 1–5, https://
42 Cara Anna, ‘US Says Food Aid Runs out this Week in Ethiopia’s Tigray’, Associated Press,
20 August 2021.
43 , ‘Northern Ethiopia Humanitarian Update: Situation Report’, 9 December 2021.
44 Helen Clark and Rachel Kyle, ‘In Tigray, Sexual Violence has become a Weapon of War’,
Foreign Policy, 27 April 2021.
45 Amnesty International, ‘I Don’t Know if They Realised I Was a Person’: Rape and Other
Sexual Violence in the Conflict in Tigray (London: Amnesty International, 2021).
46 Amnesty International, ‘Ethiopia: Survivors of  Attack in Amhara Decribe Gang
Rape, Looting and Physical Assaults’, 9 November 2021.
47 Awet Weldemichael, Yibeyin Hagos Yohannes, Meron Estefanos, and Anonymous,
‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Eritrean Refugees in Tigray and the Ethiopian Civil
War’, International Peace Research Association, 2022.
48 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, ‘We Will Erase You from This Land’,
p. 149.
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taken by conquest, violently displacing Tigrayans in the process. Amhara
forces seized disputed territories such as Raya and Welkait, claiming that the
1995 Constitution unjustly incorporated these areas into Tigray.
Belying the idea that this is simply a war against the , countless
Tigrayans throughout Ethiopia have been harassed, proled, red, arbitrarily
arrested, and forcibly disappeared by government security forces. With the
rebel forces advancing towards the capital in November 2021, the federal gov-
ernment initiated a mass arrest campaign of Tigrayans, coinciding with a surge
in genocidal rhetoric. The federal government, enlisting troops from regional
security forces and renewed drone support from foreign countries, turned the
tide on the battleeld and forced the  to retreat to Tigray in December
2021. The Ethiopian government unilaterally declared a ‘humanitarian truce’
in late March 2022 while simultaneously moving forces to Tigray’s border and
demanded that Tigray forces pull back from their positions in Afar for aid to
be delivered.
4.2 Background to the Myanmar Case55
Over the past 60 years, the Rohingya community of Myanmar has been severely
persecuted, with the atrocities committed against them culminating in what
many scholars, practitioners, independent advocates, and states have called a
‘slow-burning’ genocide of Rohingya people. To escape a longstanding cam-
paign of state-led displacement, repression, and mass atrocities, in the weeks
before and following 25 August 2017, approximately 742,000 Rohingya people
ed across the border from Myanmar into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, joining an
estimated 300,000 forcibly displaced Rohingya people who had resettled there
in previous years.
49 New York Times, ‘Ethiopia’s War Leads to Ethnic Cleansing in Tigray Region, U.S. Report
Says’, 16 August 2021.
50 International Crisis Group, ‘Bridging the Divide in Ethiopia’s North’, Crisis Group Africa
Briefing N°156, 12 June 2020, 1–16.
51 Andrew Harding, ‘Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict: Mass Arrests and Ethnic Profiling Haunt
Addis Ababa’, BBC, 21 November 2021.
52 Mistir Sew, ‘The Ethiopian Blueprint for a Limitless War in Tigray’, Ethiopia Insight, 22
December 2021.
53 International Crisis Group, ‘Tigrayan Forces Retreat in Ethiopia’, 16 December 2021, https://, accessed 1 April 2022.
54 Zecharias Zelalem, ‘Can Ethiopia’s “Truce” end its Devastating Civil War?’, Al Jazeera, 28
March 2022.
55 This text is adapted from Yuriko Cowper-Smith’s PhD dissertation.
56 The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, ‘Burma Risk Assessment’; Zarni and Cowley,
‘The Slow-burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya’.
57 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ‘Rohingya Emergency’, 2020, https://, accessed 15 September 2021.
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Rohingyas are an indigenous community of Myanmar, living primarily in
the border state of Rakhine. The systematic elimination of Rohingya iden-
tity from Myanmar’s ‘imagined community’ began in earnest in 1962, after
a coup d’état led by General Ne Win. The military dictatorship orchestrated
discriminatory policies and used inammatory rhetoric as part of its post-
colonial nation-building project. The Burmese government’s narrative since
1962 remains that Rohingyas are originally from Bangladesh. As Maung Zarni
and Alice Cowley write, ‘the State and the predominantly Buddhist society
have collaborated with the intent to deindigenize, illegalize, dehumanize and
destroy a people whose ancestral home is in Myanmar’.
In 1974, General Ne Win’s military dictatorship ratied the Emergency
Immigration Act, thereby giving the government the authority to remove
Rohingyas’ national registration certicates and substitute them with foreign
registration cards. From 1977 to 1978, the military junta launched Nagamin, or
Operation Dragon King, with the purpose of ‘designating citizens and foreign-
ers who have ltered into the country illegally’, leading to one of the rst major
exoduses of Rohingyas into Bangladesh. The Rohingya community faced
further destruction when the government drafted the 1982 Citizenship Law,
which was used as a pretext to deprive them of citizenship. From then on, to be
granted citizenship, Rohingya people had to apply for naturalised citizenship,
a type of citizenship designed for non-indigenous immigrants. Beyond strip-
ping them of legal status, the 1982 Citizenship Law also legitimised discrimina-
tory treatment and has ‘formed the legal basis for arbitrary and discriminatory
treatment against the Rohingya community and made them subject to a series
of draconian policies and controls’.
58 Roy Chowdhury, ‘An Un-Imagined Community: The Entangled Geneology of an Exclusivity
Nationalism in Myanmar and the Rohingya Refugee Crisis’, Journal of the Study of Race,
Nation and Culture, 26(5) 590–607 (2020); Kunal Mukherjee, ‘Race Relations, Nationalism
and the Humanitarian Rohingya Crisis in Contemporary Myanmar’, Asian Journal of
Political Science, 27(2), 235–251 (2019); A. K. M. Ahsan Ullah, ‘Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar:
Seeking Justice for the “Stateless”’, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 32(3) 285–301
59 Zarni and Cowley, ‘The Slow-burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya’, p. 67.
60 Samuel Cheung, ‘Migration Control and the Solutions Impasse in South and Southeast
Asia: Implications from the Rohingya Experience’, Journal of Refugee Studies, 25(1) 50–70
61 Natalie Brinham, ‘The Conveniently Forgotten Human Rights of the Rohingya’, Forced
Migration Review, 41, 40–41 (2012).
62 Alexandra Phillips, ‘The World’s Blind Spot: Shedding Light on the Persecuted’, Harvard
International Review, 35(2) 31–33 (2013).
63 Brinham, ‘The Conveniently Forgotten Human Rights of the Rohingya’, p. 40.
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Between 1991 and 1993, the military government’s extreme measures
prom pted another exodus of approximately 250,000 Rohingyas to
Bangladesh. As Fortify Rights has documented, in 1991, the Myanmar mili-
tary launched Operation Pyi Thaya – which translates to ‘Clean and Beautiful
Nation’ – in Rakhine State, committing killings and sexual violence, razing vil-
lages and mosques, and forcing thousands of Rohingyas to Bangladesh. For
those who remained in Myanmar, the state implemented further restrictions
on rights in the 1990s. For instance, in 1992, the Ministry of Defence created
the NaSaKa, a ‘multi-agency border control force’ which enforced policies that
systematically impacted Rohingya.
In March 2011, the military government handed power to a quasi-civilian
government led by former general Thein Sein. President Thein Sein initiated
a series of reforms that led to some aspects of liberalisation. However, under
the guise of maintaining order against internal threats, Myanmar’s govern-
ment continued to legitimise the military’s central role in politics. Since 2012,
thousands of Burmese troops have entered Rakhine State to maintain ‘security’
in response to stories that Rohingyas were plotting terrorist insurgencies. As
Hanna Hindstrom notes, ‘the threat of instability and violence may thus serve
as an alternate strategy to boost the army’s popularity in Rakhine and defend
its grip over Burmese politics’. This logic justied the increasing prevalence
of policies designed to marginalise the Rohingya population in Rakhine State
and the ethnic separation that has been enshrined in government policy.
In 2014, in the lead-up to the rst national census in 30 years, the gov-
ernment withdrew its previous assurance that Rohingyas could self-identify
64 Equal Rights Trust and Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University,
Equal Only in Name: The Human Rights of Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia (London: Equal
Rights Trust, 2014); Phillips, ‘The World’s Blindspot’; Ullah, ‘Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar’.
65 Fortify Rights, ‘Tools of Genocide: National Verification Cards and the Denial of
Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’, September 2019, p. 27.
66 Stephen C. Druce, ‘Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: A History and Analysis of
the Rohingya Crisis’ in Mikio Oishi (ed.), Managing Conflicts in a Globalizing ASEAN
(Singapore: Springer Singapore, 2019), pp. 17–46.; Ian Holliday, ‘Addressing Myanmar’s
Citizenship Crisis’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 44 (3) 404–421 (2014).
67 Andrew Selth, ‘Myanmar’s Intelligence Apparatus and the Fall of General Khin Nyunt’,
Intelligence and National Security, 34(5) 619–636 (2019).
68 Human Rights Watch, ‘Burma: Chronology of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Detention’, 13 November
detention, accessed 1 December 2021.
69 Renaud Egreteau, Caretaking Democratization: The Military and Political Change in
Myanmar (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
70 Hanna Hindstrom, ‘Burma’s Favorite Scapegoat’, Foreign Policy, 26 February 2015.
71 Equal Rights Trust and Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Equal Only in Name.
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their ethnicity. This act left Rohingyas with the ‘option of either identifying as
“Bengali” or not participating in the census at all’. In June 2015, Myanmar’s
government began issuing Identity Cards of National Verication () to
those applicants who met the requirements for citizenship under the 1982
Citizenship Law. In November 2015, parliamentary elections resulted in a vic-
tory for the National League for Democracy (), and Htin Kyaw became
Myanmar’s rst civilian president since the coup d’état in 1962. The  gov-
ernment rebranded the  process as National Verication Cards (s).
s stripped Rohingyas of the remaining rights they formerly held, barring
them from voting and running in the 2015 national elections.
All of these conditions and escalating violence culminated in the govern-
ment retaliating against an insurgency with massive force, causing an exodus of
Rohingyas that began in August 2017 and ultimately displaced around 742,000
people. The coup d’état that occurred in February 2021 further complicates
questions of humanitarian intervention. The military continues to operate
with impunity in inicting violence against ethnic minorities and the major-
ity Bamar population. Fortify Rights nds that, among others, Commander-
in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander-in-Chief
Vice-Senior General Soe Win, and the Joint Chief of Staf General Mya Tun Oo
are potentially responsible for crimes against humanity in relation to the coup,
as well as genocide and crimes against humanity involving Rohingyas.
5 R2P Options in Ethiopia and Myanmar
R2P is organised around three pillars that are non-sequential and of equal
importance. The rst pillar involves building national resilience and each
state’s responsibility to protect citizens based on its existing sovereign respon-
sibility and international legal obligations. The second pillar refers to the inter-
national community’s responsibility to assist and encourage states to full
72 ibid., p. 7.
73 Fortify Rights, ‘Tools of Genocide’, p. 28.
74 Their report underlines that the  process violates Rohingyas’ right to a nationality, the
principle of non-discrimination, and other fundamental rights.
75 , ‘Report of the Detailed Findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding
Mission on Myanmar’, //39/.2, 17 September 2018.
76 Alice Cuddy, ‘Myanmar Coup: What is Happening and Why?’ BBC, 1 April 2021.
77 Fortify Rights, ‘“Nowhere is Safe”: The Myanmar Junta’s Crimes Against Humanity
Following the Coup d’État’, 24 March 2022,
03-24/, accessed 10 April 2022.
wight and cowper-smith
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their R2P mandate. The third pillar outlines the international community’s
responsibility to take timely and decisive action to protect populations from
the four crimes through diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means.
In cases where national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their pop-
ulations, and non-coercive means prove inadequate, more forceful means can
be enacted through Chapter  of the UN Charter.
Events in Ethiopia and Myanmar have deteriorated to the point that most
actions under Pillar 1 are no longer sucient. While such measures are always
necessary, our focus is on policies that have the potential to address mass
atrocities as they are happening. The UN Secretary-General has noted that
non-coercive measures are an important aspect of Pillars 2 and 3, while mil-
itary intervention is just one of the measures that can be used to respond in
a timely and decisive manner. While some of the non-coercive and coercive
policies discussed here fall directly under Pillars 2 and 3, others are not explic-
itly part of the R2P policy set and were selected based on their potential to
mitigate or halt ongoing abuses.
There is a strong case for some form of intervention based on R2P in Ethiopia
and Myanmar. First, both governments were unable to protect their citizens.
In both cases, evidence suggests that an ethno-cultural community is at risk
of being annihilated in whole or in part. Second, there is ample evidence of
war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and acts of genocide
directed by the state. Third, targeted communities have asked for interventions
based on R2P. And, nally, had the international community acted in both
cases, and if the UN had a presence in the parts of the country where atrocities
were being committed, there was at some point a reasonable prospect for suc-
cess in averting or halting mass atrocities.
6 Non-Coercive Policy Options in Ethiopia and Myanmar
6.1 Diplomatic Solutions
Diplomacy is an important policy tool under the three pillars of R2P. Once a
situation has moved beyond preventive diplomacy, there is a need for political
dialogue, mediation, and conict resolution. Several options have been exer-
cised in Ethiopia and Myanmar with little success.
In reference to Tigray, beyond issuing media statements and passing a reso-
lution to set up a human rights probe, the UN Security Council and UN General
78 Alex J. Bellamy, ‘The Three Pillars of Responsibility to Protect’, Pensamiento Propio, 41,
35–64 (2015).
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Assembly have done little to address the situation. The Council did not add
Ethiopia to its formal agenda or provide regular briengs to the Secretary-
General on the crisis. Russia and China stalled attempts to organise a public
session on Tigray. Authorised by the General Assembly, on 22 December
2021, the 33rd Special Session of the Human Rights Council was held to discuss
rights abuses in Ethiopia.
International actors have been pushing both sides to reach a negotiated set-
tlement. When the war began, a series of battleeld successes by the Ethiopian
army and its allies emboldened Abiy to reject numerous diplomatic over-
tures, including by the African Union (AU). Olusegun Obasanjo, the former
Nigerian president and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, was
eventually appointed to lead the mediation between the federal government
and Tigray’s regional government. Obasanjo met with representatives of the
Abiy regime and  for a second time in November 2021 to encourage both
parties to choose dialogue and accept a ceasere agreement. As of April 2022,
little progress has been made and no formal mediation process has started.
Regionally, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (), for-
merly the primary conict resolution mechanism for East Africa, has efec-
tively become defunct in this capacity following the alliance formed between
the leaders of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. At the continental level, African
leaders have put national interests and power struggles ahead of the AU
Constitution. Prior to a mid-April brieng, Africa’s non-permanent members
of the Security Council, the ‘A3’ of Niger, Kenya, and Tunisia, refrained from
speaking out about the war and atrocities committed, and focused their con-
cerns on preserving the Ethiopian state.
The US and other Western powers have supported the idea of an AU-led
mediation. Under Donald Trump, the US supported Abiy against the , but
Joe Biden has been much more critical given the humanitarian crisis in Tigray
and the potential to destabilise the Horn of Africa. At the Security Council
79 Human Rights Watch, ‘UN Security Council: End Inaction on Ethiopia’, 2 July 2021, https://, accessed 10
April 2022.
80 Jason Burke, ‘Ethiopian  Rebuffs Mediation Attempts as Tigray Deadline Nears’, The
Guardian, 25 November 2020.
81 Aggrey Mutambo, ‘Olusegun Obasanjo Meets  Chiefs as Ethiopia Claims New War
Victory’, The East African, 20 November 2021.
82 Goitom Gebreluel, ‘The Tripartite Alliance Destabilising the Horn of Africa’, Al Jazeera, 10
May 2021.
83 De Waal, ‘July 2021 Employee of the Month: Abiy Ahmed’; Addis Standard, ‘ to Meet
on Ethiopia Under AoB Today: Meeting First Ever Request from A3 Members’, 14 April
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level, it is believed that China and Russia would block action under R2P with-
out the consent of African states. Abiy has issued statements about ‘foreign
meddling’ and ‘US imperialism’ in an efort to win over China and Russia.
Alongside eforts to kickstart a peace process, international actors have sup-
ported the idea of convening a National Dialogue to resolve the political crisis.
Thus far, the proposed dialogue has been a single-party afair that lacks legit-
imacy, transparency, and credibility. Of the 53 registered political parties in
Ethiopia, only three, including the ruling Prosperity Party, agreed with the way
the eleven-member National Dialogue Commission was formed in February
In Myanmar, the UN has not implemented the full spectrum of diplomatic
options under R2P in the case of the Rohingya genocide or the 2021 coup
d’état. Although various actions have been taken, such as creating diplomatic
channels through rapporteurs and envoys, the UN has failed to act with the
appropriate level of urgency. As one senior UN ocial stated in 2017, ‘we’ve
been pandering to the Rakhine community at the expense of the Rohingya …
the government knows how to use us and to manipulate us and they keep on
doing it’.
Over the past several decades, the General Assembly and the Oce of the
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights () have voted on resolutions
condemning human rights abuses against Rohingyas and other minorities in
Myanmar. The position of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of
human rights in Myanmar was created in 1992. A mandate adopted by the
Assembly reinstated the position of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General
on Myanmar. In addition, the relevant Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-
General in Myanmar drafted and signed a Joint Communiqué on prevention
and response to conict-related sexual violence in 2018.
84 Alex de Waal, ‘It’s Time for Africa to Take a Stance Against Ethiopia’s Crimes’, Al Jazeera, 27
May 2021.
85 Patrick Wight, ‘Ethiopia: Why  Abiy’s National Dialogue is Dead on Arrival’, African
Arguments, 28 March 2022.
86 Jonah Fisher, ‘UN Failures on Rohingya Revealed’, BBC, 28 September 2017.
87 The Guardian, ‘UN Condemns Myanmar over Human Rights Abuses against Rohingya’, 28
December 2019.
88 United Nations, ‘Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar’, no
date,, accessed 10 April 2022.
89 A Special Envoy is an expert appointed by the Secretary-General to represent them, usually
on issues such as human rights, peace-building and peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and
post-conflict or post-emergency recovery.
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A number of bilateral diplomatic actions have also been undertaken.
Canada, for instance, appointed a Special Envoy to Myanmar in 2017, the
Honourable Bob Rae. His team released a report in April 2018 which ofered
recommendations to the government that informed Canada’s Strategy to
Respond to the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. In March 2022,
in a long-awaited announcement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated
that the situation constitutes genocide. Nonetheless, international diplo-
matic actions have so far unfortunately not been able to change circumstances
on the ground and save lives.
At the regional level, there is little expectation that any multilateral organ-
isation will play a major role in forcing Myanmar to respect its obligations
under R2P through diplomatic means. Some countries within the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations () have refused even to criticise the military
coup, let alone take action to protect Rohingyas. For instance, the group devel-
oped a document in April 2021, titled ‘Five Points of Consensus’, that neither
condemned the coup nor held General Min Aung Hlaing accountable for it.
The lack of implementation has produced a split within  and caused
Myanmar’s leaders to be blocked from attending major meetings. In addi-
tion to these regional divisions, Myanmar is the site of great power competi-
tion between the US and China. As they vie for more inuence and power in
Southeast Asia, China continues to ofer a diplomatic shield to Myanmar.
At the national level, the National Unity Government () – the gov-
ernment-in-exile made up of members of parliament who were elected in
November 2021 and then ousted by the military in February 2021 – has made
diplomatic overtures to the Rohingya community.
90 United Nations, ‘Joint Communique of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and
the United Nations on Prevention Response to Conflict-related Sexual Violence’, 7
December 2018,
Joint_Communique_of_Myanmar_UN_Prevention_Response_to_CRSV_2018.pdf, accessed
10 April 2022.
91 Government of Canada, ‘Canada’s Response to the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar and
Bangladesh’, 5 April 2022,
myanmar.aspx?lang=eng, accessed 10 April 2022.
92 Timothy McLaughlin, ‘Why the U.S. Finally Called a Genocide in Myanmar a “Genocide”’,
The Atlantic, 21 March 2022.
93 Chen Chen Lee, ‘ Summit on Myanmar and the 5-Point Consensus’, Asia Link, 11
May 2021.
94 Grant Peck, ‘ Envoy for Myanmar Crisis Arrives on First Mission’, The Star, 21 March
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Beyond piecemeal diplomatic eforts, decisive action has not been taken
in either case by the UN or Western powers to enforce the principles of R2P.
In both cases, the continental and regional architecture has also proven to
be incapable of addressing the human rights situation. Meanwhile, the two
national governments have tactically used their sovereignty and accusations
of neo-imperialism as a shield against diplomatic eforts.
6.2 Coordinating Humanitarian Aid
Foreign actors can alleviate human sufering by coordinating humanitarian
assistance in Ethiopia and Myanmar. Humanitarian assistance and R2P are
two related but distinct spheres of action. However, under R2P, the protec-
tion of refugees, internally displaced peoples, and civilians in humanitarian
emergencies are included under Pillars 2 and 3. In addition, the norm of con-
ditional sovereignty was originally meant to enhance the ability of aid workers
to access people in need of emergency relief.
In Ethiopia, humanitarian access has been a constant source of diplo-
matic tension between the federal government, international aid agencies,
and Western governments. The unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid to
Tigray has been heavily politicised. The Ethiopian government and its allies
have persistently obstructed humanitarian aid, imposing a de facto humanitar-
ian blockade, while at least 23 aid workers have been killed. For the rst ve
weeks of the war, aid convoys were efectively blocked from entering Tigray.
Over the following seven months, the UN recorded 130 incidents of aid agen-
cies being turned away at checkpoints and staf being assaulted or obstructed,
with only one of these incidents attributed to the . Amid escalating con-
ict, electricity, internet, and mobile network blackouts, road blockages, and
95 Burma Library, ‘Press Statement on  by H.E. Daw Zin Mar Aung, Union Minister,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the National Unity Government of Myanmar’, 5 December
union-minister-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-of-the, accessed 10 April 2022.
96 Urvashi Aneja, ‘India, R2P and Humanitarian Assistance’, Global Responsibility to Protect,
6(2) 227–245 (2014).
97 Francis Deng, et al., Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa
(Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1996).
98 Fisseha Fantahun Tefera, ‘The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2417 on
Starvation and Armed Conflicts and its Limits: Tigray/Ethiopia as an Example’, Global
Responsibility to Protect, 14(1) 20–27 (2022).
99 Peter Mwai, ‘Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis: What’s Stopping Aid Getting In?’, BBC, 30 July 2021;
Michael McCaul, ‘McCaul Statement on Recent Events in Ethiopia, 10 September 2021,
in-ethiopia/, accessed 16 September 2021.
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shortages of cash and fuel, aid agencies have been hindered from operating
safely and efectively.
In August 2021, the Norwegian Refugee Council () and the Dutch section
of Médecins Sans Frontières () were barred from operating across Ethiopia
for three months. Abiy claimed that both organisations had spread misinfor-
mation and failed to ensure foreign staf were working with appropriate per-
mits. In October, the Ethiopian government lifted its suspension of ’s
activities but extended its ban on the  for an additional two months.
In November, the Ethiopian government arbitrarily detained 16 local UN staf.
Working in the region has become so dangerous that many aid groups have
scaled back operations.
UN aid agencies estimate that 100 trucks need to enter Tigray each day with
food, non-food items, and fuel. Attempts to coordinate aid to -held Tigray
have put aid workers in the government’s cross-hairs. The Ethiopian Foreign
Ministry has accused aid agencies, without evidence, of ‘using aid as a cover’
and ‘arming the rebel groups to prolong the conicts’. Of the 466 privately-
owned aid trucks that made the journey into Tigray from July to September
2021, the UN reported that only 38 had returned. The reasons cited by drivers
were a lack of fuel to return and security concerns after they were harassed or
intimidated at checkpoints. The government alleged, without providing evi-
dence, that the  seized these trucks.
The policy of blocking aid is designed to sufocate the people of Tigray as a
means to destroy the . In September 2021, UN aid chief Martin Griths
declared that Tigray was being subjected to a ‘man-made famine’ and urged
the Ethiopian government to facilitate access. Days later, seven UN ocials
100 Delia Burns, ‘Tigray: Time for the UN the Report on Humanitarian Facilities and
Personnel’, 14 July 2021,
for-the-un-to-report-on-attacks-on-humanitarian-facilities-and-personnel/, accessed on
28 July 2021.
101 Maria Gerth-Niculescu, ‘Aid Access to Tigray Remains Stalled, Despite Ceasefire’,
The New Humanitarian, 26 June 2021; Philip Kleinfeld, ‘Tigray Aid Response Hit by
Suspensions, Blockade,’ The New Humanitarian, 9 August 2021.
102 , ‘Ethiopia: Northern Ethiopia Access Snapshot – October 2021’, 12 November
october-2021, accessed 21 November 2021.
103 , ‘UN Says 16 Local Staff Detained in Ethiopia Amid Push to End War’, France 24, 9
November 2021.
104 Hilary Matfess, ‘Despite Cease-fire in Tigray, No End in Sight for Conflict’, 15 August 2021,, accessed
20 August 2021.
105 Peter Mwai, ‘Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis: Why are Hundreds of Aid Trucks Stranded?’ BBC,
27 September 2021.
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were expelled from the country. No aid trucks subsequently entered Tigray
between December 2021 and March 2022. After Abiy declared a ‘humanitarian
truce’ on 24 March 2022, the World Food Program () announced that 170
aid trucks entered Tigray in the month of April, enough for 8% of its target
population, and 158 had already returned.
The Prime Minister claims that the pressure for unfettered humanitar-
ian access contravenes the country’s sovereignty and national interest. Abiy
repeated accusations that during the 1984–85 famine foreign powers strength-
ened the insurgent  forces through the cover of humanitarian access to
overthrow the Derg government. Declassied documents from the US and
United Kingdom show that ocials did at least consider such a policy. The
 apologised to Bob Geldof and Band Aid after publishing a story citing dis-
gruntled  ocials who alleged that the  syphoned of most of the
aid for military purposes. While verifying such claims is a dicult task, this
shows that international actors must not politicise aid delivery. Rather than
focusing on how much aid was diverted, Hilary Matfess argues that, by oper-
ating the Relief Society of Tigray (), the  developed forms of rebel
governance. This shows how rebel groups play consequential but controversial
roles in providing humanitarian aid.
Regarding humanitarian assistance for Rohingyas in Myanmar, access to
Rakhine State has been intermittent. The UN Oce for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Afairs was able to conduct an assessment of the situation in
Rakhine State in 2012. In 2014, most aid agencies pulled out of the state after
‘mobs of Buddhists ransacked their oces and warehouses, accusing them of
106 Cara Anna and Edith M. Lederer, ‘The  Interview: Ethiopia Crisis a Stain on Our
Conscience’, Associated Press, 29 September 2021; Georgina Quach, ‘Ethiopia Expels
‘Meddling’ UN Staff as Famine Deepens in Tigray Without Aid’, The Guardian, 1 October
107 World Food Program Ethiopia [@_Ethiopia], ‘Another 27 Trucks delivered
humanitarian supplies into #Mekelle yesterday.Twitter, 1 May 2022,
108 Tefera, ‘The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2417 in Starvation and Armed
Conflict and Its Limits’.
109 Cahal Milmo, ‘Margaret Thatcher Demanded UK Find Ways to “Destabilise” Ethiopian
Regime in Power during 1984 Famine’, The Independent, 16 July 2015.
110 , ‘ Apologises over Band Aid Money Reports’, 4 November 2010.
111 Hilary Matfess, ‘Alms, Arms, and the Aftermath: The Legacies of Rebel Provision of
Humanitarian Aid in Ethiopia’, African Affairs, adac010, 1–24 (2022), pp. 11–12.
112 , ‘Report on Findings and Recommendations by Inter-Agency Mission to Thandwe
Township in Rakhine State’, 4–6 October 2013,
Thandwe_(Oct%204%20to%206).pdf, accessed 10 April 2022.
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bias in favour of Muslims’. In 2016, the government stopped  from deliv-
ering aid to Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State due to security operations.
Since 2017, activities in Rakhine State have been largely suspended and aid
organisations barred entry.
Owing to impediments placed by Myanmar’s government and its unwilling-
ness to assist its Rohingya population, most aid is channelled from donor coun-
tries to humanitarian organisations outside of Rakhine State. International
organisations support Rohingya people through other avenues, such as the
Joint Response Plan () for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis launched by
the UN in 2018. The government of Bangladesh leads the response plan in coor-
dination with the UN and its partners for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar
and on Bhasan Char island. The provision of humanitarian assistance to
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is mainly coordinated by the  and the
International Organisation for Migration ().
As these two cases demonstrate, humanitarian assistance is a crucial ave-
nue for external actors to alleviate human sufering, but its delivery can be
politicised and, despite the R2P norm, it continues to encounter barriers tied
to state sovereignty.
6.3 Documenting Crimes and Accountability Measures
Once a conict breaks out, external actors play a crucial role in collecting data
and documenting atrocities. Such investigations are undertaken with the aim
of pursuing coercive diplomacy through international accountability. Under
Pillars 2 and 3 of R2P, the UN can implement policies such as monitoring,
fact-nding missions, commissions of inquiry, and, ultimately, referring perpe-
trators to the  or another international justice mechanism.
As Bina D’Costa writes, ‘the biggest challenge in mobilising urgent interna-
tional action as a response to the escalating armed conict and famine is the
lack of reliable data in Tigray’. The war has made it extremely dicult to
113 Al Jazeera, ‘UN: Food aid for 80,000 Rohingya Blocked by Myanmar’, 19 October 2016.
114 Human Rights Watch, ‘Burma: Aid Blocked to Rakhine State’, 21 October 2016, https://, accessed 10 April
115 Oliver Holmes, ‘Myanmar Blocks All UN Aid to Civilians at Heart of Rohingya’, The
Guardian, 4 September 2017.
116 , ‘2021 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis’, 18 May 2021,, accessed 12 April 2022.
117 Bina D’Costa, ‘Tigray’s Complex Emergency, Expulsions and the Aspirations of the
Responsibility to Protect’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 14(1) 5–11 (2022), p. 7.
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document human rights abuses and the humanitarian situation. Such di-
culties are, however, tied most directly to the government’s policies to isolate
Tigray by shutting of essential services such as electricity and communica-
tions, denying access to international journalists and aid workers, and jailing
local journalists. The Ethiopian government has used these tactics to control
the facts and narratives about the war. As an example, it took Abiy nearly four
months to admit that Eritrean troops were in Tigray. Ethiopia’s state media
and aliated inuencers, Temesgen Kahsay writes, have ‘created an alterna-
tive reality in which even live-recorded killings do not register a sympathetic
Whenever the communication lines are restored, organisations like
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are able to speak with people
in the region to conrm atrocities through witness accounts, by using forensic
analysis, and through open-source techniques, such as satellite imagery, veri-
cation, and photographs. Opposition forces, such as the  and Oromo
Liberation Army (), tend to issue blanket denials whenever accused of
committing atrocities but nonetheless have continually asked for independent
The Ethiopian government initially rejected any form of independent
inquiry on the pretext of state sovereignty. In March 2021, the  and
the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission () launched a joint process
to investigate crimes in Tigray. Although a legally autonomous federal insti-
tution, the  is a state body whose funding depends on the Ethiopian
118 Nick Cheeseman and Yohannes Woldemariam, ‘Ethiopia’s Perilous Propaganda War’,
Foreign Affairs, 8 April 2021.
119 Claire Wilmot, Ellen Tveteeras, and Alexi Drew, ‘Duelling Information Campaigns: The
War Over the Narrative in Tigray’, 24 August 2021,
studies/dueling-information-campaigns-war-over-narrative-tigray, accessed 25 August
120 , ‘Ethiopia  Abiy Ahmed Admits Eritrea Forces in Tigray’, 23 March 2021.
121 Temesgen Kahsay, ‘Tigray: Our Suffering may not be Convenient, but It Is Real’, African
Arguments, 3 August 2021.
122 Bader, ‘The Latest on the Crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region’.
123 , ‘Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Documents Mass Civilian Casualties’, 11
March 2022.
124 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ethiopian
Human Rights Commission, ‘Report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission
()/Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ()
Joint Investigation into Alleged Violations of International Human Rights, Humanitarian
and Refugee Law Committed by all Parties to the Conflict in the Tigray Region of the
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’, 3 November 2021.
125 Getachew Temare, ‘A Joint Ethiopia-UN Inquiry into Tigray Atrocities is not a Good
Solution’, The Africa Report, 15 April 2021.
mass atrocities in ethiopia and myanmar
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government and its commissions are appointed by parliament. The report,
released on 3 November 2021, accused all sides of committing atrocities. It
faced criticism due to serious methodological aws and the fact that the 
was a part of the investigation.
On 16 June 2021, the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights
announced that an AU Commission of Inquiry would be established into
the situation in Tigray. In response, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Afairs
said that this ‘unilateral’ announcement was ‘regrettable’ and was ‘outside
the scope of the invitation by the government and lacks legal basis’. In late
March 2021, the Ethiopian government failed in its bid to block funding for a
truly independent investigation into abuses in the country established by the
UN Human Rights Council. Human rights groups have called on the federal
government to allow the international commission of human rights experts on
Ethiopia to start its work and be granted access to the country.
In December 2021, the US decided to halt a legal review into whether human
rights abuses in Tigray amount to genocide. This was reportedly done to facil-
itate diplomacy. Under a bill proposed in February 2022, H.R. 6600, the US
administration would be authorised to investigate and seek accountability for
human rights violations committed in Ethiopia.
International agencies and civil society actors have managed to access
Myanmar and investigate human rights violations by using creative means to
overcome the state’s eforts to block them from investigating on the ground.
In 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi and her government invited foreign experts to
examine the situation in Rakhine State. The resulting Advisory Commission
126 Tigray Human Rights Forum, ‘A Statement of Concern on the Joint Investigation of the
 and ’, Ethiopia Insight, 3 November 2021.
127 African Union, ‘Press Statement on the Official Launch of the Commission of Inquiry
on the Tigray Region in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’, 16 June 2021,
inquiry-tigray-region-federal, accessed 1 August, 2021.
128 Addis Standard, ‘Ethiopia calls on AU to Stop Commission of Inquiry on Rights Abuse in
Tigray says Outside Scope of Agreement, Lacks Legal Basis’, 17 June 2021.
129 Michelle Nichols, ‘Ethiopia Fails at U.N. to Block Funding for Independent Abuse
Inquiry’, Reuters, 31 March 2022.
130 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, ‘We Will Erase You from This Land’.
131 Bryant Harris, ‘US Halts Decision on Genocide Designation to Pursue Diplomacy in
Ethiopia’, The National News, 1 December 2021.
132 Congressional Budget Office, ‘H.R. 6600, Ethiopia, Peace, Stabilization and Democracy
Act’, 9 February 2022,, accessed 12 April 2022.
133 Reuters, ‘Myanmar’s Suu Kyi picks ex-U.N. head Annan to lead Rakhine State team’, 24
August 2016.
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on Rakhine State led by Ko Annan, in cooperation with the Ko Annan
Foundation, published its report in 2017, days before the major forced displace-
ment of Rohingyas to Bangladesh.
The  has reported on the situation in Myanmar numerous times
over the past several decades. In early 2017, an  team interviewed
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to create an assessment of human rights
violations in Rakhine State since 9 October 2016. Their initial report declared
that the violence and policies of marginalisation enacted by the Tatmadaw
(Myanmar’s military) should be viewed as widespread and systematic rather
than as sporadic, isolated events. On 24 March 2017, the  voted in
favour of creating the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on
Myanmar (). By 2018, the  had found ‘consistent patterns
of serious human rights violations and abuses in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan
States’. Many violations by the military and security forces, its report concluded,
‘amount to the gravest crimes under international law’. In August 2019, an
Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar () was established
with a mandate to collect evidence of ‘the most serious international crimes
and violations of international law ’. 
Some of the most decisive steps taken so far have been through interna-
tional law, such as the case in front of the International Court of Justice ()
that was brought forward by The Gambia and the Organisation of Islamic
Cooperation () under the Genocide Convention. In 2018, the  deter-
mined that it exercises jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingyas
from Myanmar to Bangladesh and other crimes under Article 7 of the Rome
134 Kofi Annan Foundation, Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for the People
of Rakhine: Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, 24 August 2017,
report/, accessed 13 April 2022.
135 , Report of OHCHR Mission to Bangladesh: Interviews with Rohingyas fleeing
from Myanmar since 9 October 2016, 3 February 2017,
docid/5899cc374.html, accessed 13 April 2022.
136 Ibid.
137 , ‘Report of the Detailed Findings of the Independent International Fact-
Finding Mission on Myanmar’, p. 1.
138 UN Human Rights Council, ‘Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar’, no
date,, accessed 13 April 2022.
139 Human Rights Watch, ‘Questions and Answers on Gambia’s Genocide Case Against
Myanmar Before the International Court of Justice’, 5 December 2019, https://www
myanmar-international-court, accessed 15 September 2021.
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Statute. The  accepted the ’s jurisdiction in August 2021 with respect
to international crimes committed in Myanmar’s territory since 1 July 2002. It
is, nonetheless, very unlikely that the Security Council would refer the sitting
government’s crimes to the  owing to China and Russia’s veto power.
Ethiopia and Myanmar have limited the ability of external actors to prop-
erly conduct investigations. As Jonathan Fisher writes, ‘states, and to a lesser
extent in the case of Tigray, insurgencies, are able to exercise immense – and
sometimes unchallengeable – control over regions in conict’. There are
also many barriers to documenting crimes and enforcing international law in
Myanmar, as evidenced by the state’s reluctance or outright denial to grant
jurisdiction for evidence-gathering. This blockage restricts the information
available to external actors, making even the most basic details virtually impos-
sible to independently verify, and allows the government to manage external
perceptions of the crisis. Such eforts are crucial, particularly for long-term jus-
tice and healing, but cannot address ongoing abuses in real time.
6.4 Public Advocacy
Public advocacy is a valuable policy tool under Pillar 3 of R2P. Grassroots eforts
within civil society are integral in driving public advocacy and awareness. The
goal is to generate media exposure and maintain pressure on the UN and for-
eign governments to act decisively.
In Ethiopia, public advocacy has been limited because most of the popu-
lation has supported the government’s war efort against the  and has
protested widely against Washington’s supposed neo-imperialist actions,
including through the #HandsofEthiopia movement. This has been accom-
panied by a high level of denialism concerning atrocities committed in Tigray.
Protests favouring Tigray and calls for diplomatic intervention have come from
within the Tigrayan diaspora community, spurred by the #TigrayGenocide
There has been substantial public advocacy around the world by diaspora
groups about the Rohingya genocide and, more recently, domestically in
140 International Criminal Court, ‘Statement of  Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on
Opening a Preliminary Examination Concerning the Alleged Deportation of the
Rohingya People from Myanmar to Bangladesh’, 18 September 2018, https://www.icc-cpi
.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=180918-otp-stat-Rohingya, accessed 12 December 2021.
141 Jonathan Fisher, ‘#HandsoffEthiopia: “Partiality”, Polarization and Ethiopia’s Tigray
Conflict’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 14(1) 28–32 (2022), p. 28.
142 ibid.
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response to the February 2021 coup d’état. Numerous ethnic minorities who
have also sufered human rights abuses and discrimination at the hands of the
Myanmar military and central government, such as the Karen, Karenni, and
Shan, have come out in support of Rohingyas and have explicitly called for
R2P to be implemented. On 10 August 2021, 95 s urged the US Secretary
of State Antony Blinken to declare that Myanmar committed genocide and
crimes against humanity. Then, in November 2021, 500 local and interna-
tional civil rights groups, led by Human Rights Watch, called for UN inter-
vention following an increase of violence in Chin State. In addition, Sasa, the
Minister of International Cooperation of the , recently asked Secretary-
General António Guterres to call on the Security Council to uphold R2P.
Raising awareness is needed to spur diplomatic action. Nonetheless,
although public advocacy eforts have pushed individual governments in
some meaningful respects, these actions have not created enough pressure on
the UN to act decisively. Public advocacy, while important, is not an efective
means to halt ongoing atrocities.
7 Coercive Policy Options in Ethiopia and Myanmar
7.1 Economic Sanctions
Economic sanctions are coercive diplomatic measures under Pillar 3 of R2P
that can be applied at a bilateral or multilateral level. The Security Council can
impose economic sanctions in response to threats against international peace
and security under Chapter  of the UN Charter, but this is not a common
practice. Bilateral sanctions are much more commonly used. Broad-based
sanctions include trade restrictions and arms embargoes, while targeted or
‘smart’ sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes of specic individuals.
There have been no sanctions imposed on Ethiopia from the UN or regional
powers and multilateral bodies. The European Union, for its part, suspended
143 Martin Mennecke and Ellen E. Stensrud, ‘The Failure of the International Community
to Apply R2P and Atrocity Prevention in Myanmar’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 13(2–
3) 111–130 (2021), p. 113.
144 Diamond, ‘The Failure to Protect in Myanmar’, p. 382.
145 Radio Free Asia, ‘Rights Groups Press US to Declare Myanmar Committed Genocide
Against Rohingya’, 10 August 2021.
146 Reuters, ‘Activists Urge U.N. Intervention over Myanmar Army Offensives’, 5 November
147 Daniel Drezner, ‘Sanctions Sometimes Smart: Targeted Sanctions in Theory and in
Practice’, International Studies Review, 13(1) 96–108 (2011).
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US$107 million in budget support for Ethiopia in December 2020, citing the
army’s restriction of humanitarian access. Other Western powers, such as
Canada, have been much less active in criticising the Ethiopian government,
let alone moving towards imposing sanctions on the country or its ocials.
The US has been the most forceful actor in applying sanctions to Ethiopia.
The Trump administration placed restrictions on economic and security
aid to Ethiopia in September 2020 over the Nile waters dispute with Egypt.
President Biden kept these restrictions in place, citing the Tigray war. In May
2021, Washington placed visa restrictions on unnamed Ethiopian and Eritrean
ocials. Biden ended Ethiopia’s favourable access to US markets through the
African Growth and Opportunity Act () in January 2022 and has asked
multilateral development banks to suspend funding to Ethiopia. The pro-
posed bill H.R. 6600 would require the president to impose sanctions on indi-
viduals determined to be obstructing the peace process and would suspend
most US foreign assistance. Washington ramped up its provision of human-
itarian aid and continues to provide assistance in other areas, such as health
Similar to Ethiopia, no sanctions have been imposed on Myanmar by the
UN. Prior to the democratisation period, severe sanctions were levelled against
leaders and state-owned enterprises. Although some were lifted following the
election of the rst civilian government in 2015, bilateral sanctions are still
fairly extensive. Canada, for instance, has levelled sanctions against some
individuals and entities since 2007, such as a trade embargo on arms. Canada
again implemented sanctions in 2018 against some military leaders for their
involvement in abuses against Rohingyas and has since expanded them.
In response to the 2021 coup d’état, the US ordered new sanctions against the
military regime to stop six generals from accessing US$1 billion in Myanmar
148 International Crisis Group, ‘As Ethiopian Troops Exit Tigray, Time to Focus on Relief’.
149 Patrick Wight, ‘Canada is Abdicating its Responsibility to Protect Civilians in Tigray’, The
Hill Times, 1 July 2021.
150 Samuel Gebre and Simon Marks, ‘U.S. Weighs Financial Sanctions Against Ethiopia Over
Tigray War’, Bloomberg, 22 May 2021.
151 Congressional Budget Office, ‘H.R. 6600, Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace and Democracy
152 Antony Blinken, ‘United States’ Actions to Press for the Resolution of the Crisis in the
Tigray Region of Ethiopia’, 23 May 2021,
to-press-for-the-resolution-of-the-crisis-in-the-tigray-region-of-ethiopia/, accessed 22
August 2021.
153 Government of Canada, ‘Canadian Sanctions Related to Myanmar’, 25 March 2022,
internationales/sanctions/myanmar.aspx?lang=eng, accessed 10 April 2022.
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government funds that are held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Canada, the EU, and the UK have also implemented sanctions in relation to
the 2021 coup.
In May 2021, more than 200 s requested the Security Council to institute
an arms embargo on Myanmar for the ruling junta’s violent repression of the
mounting civil disobedience movement. However, Myanmar’s allies will likely
not halt their arms trade. As Cecilia Jacob and Eglantine Staunton write,
‘with ongoing support and arms supply from Russia and China, the interna-
tional community has very little leverage to inuence or pressure the military
regime’. Due to current geopolitical dynamics, global economic sanctions, a
suspension of foreign direct investment, arms embargoes, or trade embargoes
mandated by the Council are less expected regarding the Rohingya genocide
or the coup d’état.
Bilateral economic sanctions are the only coercive policy that has been
pursued in Ethiopia and Myanmar. Most sanctions measures have been tar-
geted by states at individuals, but some have been more broad-based. These
actions have, so far, not had the impact of curtailing genocidal policies against
Tigrayans and Rohingyas. In fact, economic sanctions imposed over the years
may have tightened Myanmar’s relationship with China and Russia by mak-
ing Myanmar more dependent on their diplomatic protection and economic
investments. Owing to US sanctions, the Ethiopian government has moved
away from open belligerence towards external actors and is now playing a dip-
lomatic game, with few tangible changes in its behaviour.
7.2 Military Intervention
Military intervention authorised by the Security Council is an option under
Pillar 3 of R2P. Under international law, outside military intervention can only
be used in certain contexts. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the threat
or use of force against member states, with the two exceptions being self-
defence and actions authorised by the Council.
154 David E. Sanger, ‘Biden Imposes New Sanctions on Generals Who Engineered Myanmar
Coup’, New York Times, 10 February 2021.
155 Cecilia Jacob and Eglantine Staunton, ‘R2P and the Support of Civilian Resistance
in Myanmar’, March 2022,
resistance_Myanmar.pdf, accessed 23 April 2022.
156 Maung Zarni, ‘An Axis of Evil: Why Russia and China Protect Myanmar’s Military
Regime’, 14 May 2021,
china-protect-myanmars-military-regime, accessed 12 December 2021.
157 Jacob and Staunton, ‘R2P and the Support of Civilian Resistance in Myanmar’.
158 Sint Sint Myat, ‘Explaining Myanmar’s Policy of Non-Alignment: An Analytic Eclecticism
Approach’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 40(3), 379–399 (2021).
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Although there has been no push in this direction, some Ethiopian regime
supporters nonetheless denounced the spectre of the US or  invad-
ing Ethiopia during a series of rallies for the country’s ‘sovereignty and self-
determination’. Despite such accusations, the chances of Washington using
military force against Ethiopia are exceedingly low. There has equally been no
UN movement to authorise military intervention in response to the Rohingya
crisis in Myanmar.
In practice, military intervention could be pursued outside of the sanc-
tioned frameworks. The concept of humanitarian intervention was invoked in
s 1999 mission in Kosovo and the US’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, both of which
sidestepped the need for Security Council approval or host state consent.
Although doing so violates international law, these two cases demonstrate
that powerful states can get away with breaking such rules. There has not been
any talk, however, of states intervening militarily without Council approval in
Ethiopia or Myanmar.
In public discourse, R2P is most often associated with military intervention,
but, in practice, Libya in 2011 is the only example in which R2P has been invoked
at the Security Council to authorise the use of military force. Meanwhile, R2P
has been invoked in over 80  resolutions. The cases of Ethiopia and
Myanmar provide further evidence that the international community is reti-
cent – justiably so – in using R2P to lobby in favour of military intervention.
While military intervention has more potential than non-coercive actions to
stop atrocities in real time, it also has the potential for major blowback and to
exacerbate human sufering.
7.3 UN or Regional Peacekeeping
Deploying UN or regional peacekeeping is a policy under Pillar 3 of R2P. Since
the 1990s, the Security Council has with increasing regularity authorised
peacekeepers to use ‘all necessary means’ to protect civilians, maintain peace
159 Ann Garrison, ‘Ethiopians and Eritreans Rally for National Sovereignty, Against US
Resolution’, 31 March 2021,
eritreans-rally-national-sovereignty-against-us-intervention, accessed 16 September
160 Eamon Aloyo, ‘Reconciling Just Causes for Armed Humanitarian Intervention’, Ethical
Theory and Moral Practice, 19(2) 313–328 (2016).
161 Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect,‘What is R2P?’, no date, https://www, accessed 10 April 2022.
162 Fabrice Weissmann, ‘Not in Our Name: Why  does not Support the Responsibility to
Protect’, 3 October 2010,
why-msf-does-not-support-responsibility-protect, accessed 12 April 2022.
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and security, and facilitate the political process. UN peacekeeping is guided
by three basic principles: consent of the parties, impartiality, and non-use of
force except in self-defence or defence of the mandate.
There has so far been no public push by the UN to deploy a peacekeeping
mission to northern Ethiopia and doing so would face issues of host state con-
sent. At the continental level, the AU’s Constitutive Act contains provisions
that are even stronger than R2P in authorising collective action to stop mass
atrocities. This right is reserved by the AU, to be decided on a high-level
intergovernmental basis and not by individual states or ad hoc groupings of
them. As the case of Ethiopia demonstrates, the AU sufers from capac-
ity, nancial, and operational constraints when seeking to implement these
Meanwhile, the Eastern African Standby Force () attained full oper-
ational capability in 2015. Although the  is one of ve regional compo-
nents of the African Standby Force () conceived by the AU in 2003, the
AU has not fully taken its responsibility to achieve the necessary cooperation
with it. By proximity and capability, the  is ‘best positioned to stand
between the protagonists in Ethiopia’s Tigray region’. As the AU’s unwilling-
ness to take action in northen Ethiopia shows, the  has made little headway
in addressing constraints to intervention by the AU in the afairs of sovereign
African states.
Getting Security Council approval to deploy a peacekeeping force in
Myanmar would be dicult, both because the military junta in power would
not consent and, as a veto-wielding council member, China calls itself a friend
of Myanmar. There is, meanwhile, no continental or regional mechanism in
Asia with powers to intervene with boots on the ground that are comparable
163 Jared Schott, ‘Chapter  as Exception: Security Council Action and the Regulative
Ideal of Emergency’, Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, 6(1) 24–80
164 United Nations, ‘What is Peacekeeping’, no date,
is-peacekeeping, accessed 12 April 2022.
165 Ben Kioko, ‘The Right of Intervention Under the African Union’s Constitutive Act: From
Non-Interference to Non-Intervention’, International Review of the Red Cross, 85(852)
807–825 (2003).
166 Luck, ‘Sovereignty, Choice and the Responsibility to Protect’, p. 13.
167 Sophie Desmidt and Volker Hauck, ‘Understanding the Eastern Africa Standby Force: A
Regional Mechanism without a Political Home’, Background paper, European Centre for
Development Policy Management, 2017.
168 The East African, ‘African Standby Force, Get on your Feet and be Seen’, 31 May 2021.
169 Edith Lederer, ‘UN Official: Myanmar People Want UN Sanctions, Peacekeepers’,
Associated Press, 20 March 2021.
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to the AU’s. , a largely economic alliance, is unlikely to embrace punitive
and invasive measures against a member state due to its ocial commitment
to non-interference.
Peacekeeping, for the most part, bypasses charges of neo-imperialism and
has more potential to save lives than to exacerbate human sufering in com-
parison to a military invasion. Norms of state sovereignty and operating pro-
cedures based on host state consent for deploying a UN peace mission limit
the ability to use this option in Ethiopia and Myanmar. Divisions and compet-
ing power interests at the Security Council also inhibit the ability to take such
decisions. While the continental and regional architecture exists in Africa to
deploy a peacekeeping force against the host state’s will, this has not been used
in Tigray. A similar architecture simply does not exist in Asia.
7.4 Supporting Local Armed Resistance
A nal coercive policy approach is one that falls outside of the R2P pillars – the
international community can support the local armed resistance. Local armed
resistance is often the only way to defend a community against mass atrocities,
but such groups may also commit abuses.
The  leads the local resistance in Tigray, which is composed of the
remnants of the , other factions that have coalesced, and thousands of
new recruits who enlisted to defend their communities. The armed resistance
mounted by the  repelled the three invading forces in June 2021 after the
region was occupied and subjected to genocidal violence for seven months. Its
subsequent military operations in Afar and Amhara regions led to reports of
Before 2012, Ronan Lee claims, the Rohingya and other Muslim groups had
not embraced political violence as a tactic to advance their rights claims and
instead focused their advocacy eforts on international actors. Harakah
al-Yaqin, which became the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (), is one
example of a local armed group. However, it is unclear how much legitimacy
it holds within the Rohingya community in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Some
coordinated killings have been attributed to or claimed by , but it has not
sustained a signicant resistance against the central government.  attacks
170 Lucy Kassa, ‘Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War Spreads to New Regions in Ethiopia’,
The Globe and Mail, 29 November 2021.
171 Ronan Lee, ‘Myanmar’s Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (): An Analysis of a New
Muslim Militant Group and its Strategic Communications,Perspectives on Terrorism,
15(6) 61–75 (2021), p. 63.
172 Richard C. Paddock, Ellen Barry, and Mike Ives, ‘Persecuted Minority in Myanmar is
Escalating its Armed Insurgency’, New York Times, 19 January 2017.
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have, in fact, been used as justication for indiscriminate retaliation against
Rohingyas by the Tatmadaw.
More broadly, violence has been used as a mainstream tactic by eth-
nic minority groups to ght the central government since independence in
1948. This trend continued even after democratisation began, ‘where dozens
of armed groups were active, and in some cases, controlled territory’. The
coup complicates the concept of external actors supporting armed resistance
because each group has its own cause and goals. In September 2021, the 
called for unied action and a ‘people’s defensive war’ against the junta, while
some armed groups in coalition with ethnic armies have formed a collective
People’s Defence Forces.
Events in Tigray demonstrate that local armed resistance, even without for-
eign support, is one of the most efective means to repel a genocidal onslaught.
However, such armed forces risk committing abuses and taking revenge once
the tables have turned. Rohingyas in Myanmar, meanwhile, have not mounted
a signicant armed resistance movement. This may help to portray them as
more ‘legitimate’ victims in need of humanitarian intervention in comparison
to Tigrayans, but leaves Rohingyas more vulnerable to violence. In both cases,
the national government has used the existence of local armed resistance
groups to justify further attacks.
8 Comparative Analysis Based on Principles of Harm Mitigation
The reasons why there has been such inaction to address human rights viola-
tions in Ethiopia and Myanmar are much the same as before R2P was adopted:
the use of state sovereignty by the national government, a dysfunctional
regional architecture, and a lack of political will or ability to act decisively on
the part of the broader international community. As Nicholas Erameh and
Victor Ojakorotu write, the conservative response and self-interested postur-
ing of world powers ‘negatively impacts the doctrine with particular regards to
norm consolidation’.
173 Lee, ‘Myanmar’s Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army ()’, p. 63.
174 Reuters, ‘Myanmar Shadow Government Calls for Revolt Against Military Rule, 7
September 2021.
175 Nicholas Idris Erameh and Victor Ojakorotu, ‘The Myanmar-Rohingya Crisis, Civilian
Protection, and the Dilemma of the Responsibility to Protect Norm Institutionalization’,
Ethnic Studies Review, 44(1) 50–74 (2021), p. 67.
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As for the prescriptive questions around what should be done, there are
many diplomatic avenues for intervention in Ethiopia and Myanmar that do
not constitute an imperialist overreach or an undue violation of state sover-
eignty. Although mediation eforts may ultimately be unsuccessful – viewed
within a harm mitigation framework – there are few arguments that attempt-
ing this policy approach will exacerbate human sufering. As the meagre dip-
lomatic response in both cases demonstrates, the UN is armed with its moral
authority and its ‘ample range of capabilities’, but it has ‘limited political space
in countries whose Governments forcefully invoke sovereignty’ and non-inter-
vention in their internal afairs.
Numerous diplomatic options that have not yet been employed by the UN
or bilaterally could be used within the framework of harm mitigation in both
cases. Beyond naming and shaming, the UN could further diplomatically iso-
late Ethiopian and Eritrean regime ocials and the military junta in Myanmar.
As we are seeing in response to the war in Ukraine, the UN could encourage
states to expand their current refugee policy to include more Tigrayans and
Rohingyas. In Myanmar, specically, the UN could recognise the govern-
ment-in-exile. Given their quiet diplomacy approach towards Myanmar, Gert
Rosenthal notes, some UN entities and individuals have been complicit or
even deliberately kept quiet about the atrocities taking place in the hope of
maintaining their access to the government. He claims that this led them to
often skew their reports to UN headquarters by ‘de-dramatising’ the serious-
ness of the events in Rakhine State.
Gaining humanitarian access to regions impacted by armed conict has the
potential to mitigate human sufering by averting excess mortality from star-
vation or due to the destruction of health systems. The crises in Tigray and
Myanmar reveal that the R2P norm continues to encounter tensions between
state sovereignty and the international community’s responsibility to provide
humanitarian assistance. In Tigray, ‘with expulsions of UN and international
 staf, the aid blockade and restriction, the international community’s
capacity to ofer protection is limited by both resources and access’. The
two cases also demonstrate the dangers in both national and international
actors politicising aid. Furthermore, in Bangladesh, the presence of millions
176 Gert Rosenthal, ‘A Brief and Independent Inquiry into the Involvement of the United
Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018’, 29 May 2019,, accessed
10 April 2022.
177 ibid.
178 D’Costa, ‘Tigray’s Complex Emergency Expulsions and the Aspirations of the
Responsibility to Protect’.
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of refugees has inadvertently strained host communities, and the inux of
humanitarian actors has drastically changed the local economy. In light
of these issues, humanitarian access must adhere to a ‘do no harm’ principle,
underlining the urgency and necessity of saving lives.
Documenting crimes has the potential to alleviate human sufering in the
long term, but faces barriers owing to the diculty of collecting accurate infor-
mation amid conict, is limited by practical issues tied to state sovereignty, is
highly politicised, and cannot put an end to ongoing atrocities. Accountability
is a related but more coercive diplomatic approach. The  concluded
that, in light of the pervasive culture of impunity in Myanmar, ‘the impetus …
must come from the international community’. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, it
remains to be seen whether Abiy, Isaias, or any other warring elites implicated
in atrocities, will ever be referred to the . International accountability also
faces signicant barriers tied to state sovereignty. The hybrid court written into
South Sudan’s 2015 and 2018 peace deals, for instance, has been stalled continu-
ally because the sitting government is in charge of establishing it alongside the
AU. In another example, Ethiopia’s former autocrat, Mengistu Hailemariam,
was convicted of genocide in absentia by the Ethiopian court system in 2007
– along with 73 other ocials from the Derg government – but still lives in
Zimbabwe where he is protected from extradition.
Non-coercive policy tools like civil society advocacy are important but can-
not halt ongoing human rights violations. Local and international civil society
must continue to raise public awareness, create avenues for dialogue, and pres-
sure national governments, multilateral institutions, and international organ-
isations. R2P has failed to gain domestic salience in Ethiopia and Myanmar
partly because R2P is often conated with Western military intervention.
Due to the highly nationalistic context in both countries, accusations of gen-
ocide have caused the general public to perceive the country as being under
179 Abu Faisal Md. Khaled, ‘Do No Harm in Refugee Humanitarian Aid: The Case of the
Rohingya Humanitarian Response’, International Journal of Humanitarian Action, 6(7)
180 , ‘Report of the Detailed Findings of the Independent International Fact-
Finding Mission on Myanmar’, p. 1.
181 Amnesty International, ‘South Sudan: UN Human Rights Council must Continue to
Promote Accountability in Absence of Meaningful Progress on the Implementation of
Chapter V of the Revitalized Peace Agreement’, 29 March 2022, https://www.amnesty
.org/en/documents/ior40/5397/2022/en/, accessed 24 April 2022.
182 Tsegaye Tadesse, ‘Ethiopia’s Mengistu Found Guilty of Genocide’, Reuters, 20 January
183 Albeit, as stated above, some domestic groups have called for R2P interventions during
the anti-coup movement.
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attack. Human rights-based criticism of the government’s treatment of
Rohingyas, Pederson notes, ‘has increasingly led some Myanmar people to
reject the idea of human rights as “alien” and detrimental to the country’s
Economic sanctions are the only coercive option used so far in Ethiopia
and Myanmar. Realists generally argue that sanctions are inefective because
they can be easily sidestepped and rarely achieve their stated goals. Anti-
imperialists, for their part, contend that the US and other powerful states
enforce human rights standards in an inconsistent and self-serving manner,
while hiding their own abuses. Playing into legitimate criticism along these
lines, government supporters have accused Wesern powers of undermining
the state’s sovereignty by interfering in Ethiopia’s internal afairs. Such argu-
ments are meant to deect away from legitimate criticism. Nonetheless, to
be consistent with pursuing humanitarian goals, targeted sanctions must be
designed to punish regime ocials who are responsible for abuses rather than
trying to destroy a country’s economy. Targeted sanctions are a more ethical
approach from the perspective of harm mitigation, but, conversely, exert less
pressure on abusive regimes.
Military intervention is an unpalatable option for Ethiopia and Myanmar
because it is unclear who should intervene, to what ends, and whether such
an intervention would ameliorate the situation or simply add another layer of
complexity to the existing crises. As Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur
on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, notes, ‘any kind of military
intervention would lead to a massive loss of life’. Instability has, for instance,
been widespread in Libya since the -led intervention in 2011, which was
184 Nickey Diamond, ‘The Failure to Protect in Myanmar: A Reflection on National
Protection Against Mass Atrocity Crimes and Prospects for the Responsibility to Protect’,
Global Responsibility to Protect, 13(2–3) 379–386 (2021), p. 384.
185 Morten Pedersen, ‘The Rohingya Crisis, Myanmar, and R2P “Black holes”’, Global
Responsibility to Protect, 13(2–3) 349–378 (2021).
186 Robert Pape, ‘Why Economic Sanctions do not Work’, International Security, 22(2) 90–
136 (1997).
187 Christopher Wall, ‘Human Rights and Economy Sanctions: A New Imperialism, Fordham
International Law Journal, 22(2) 577–611 (1998).
188 Teferi Mergo, ‘US Sanctions on Ethiopia: Good Policy or Violation of Ethiopia’s
Sovereignty?’, 21 June 2021,
us-sanctions-ethiopia-good-policy-or-violation-ethiopias-sovereignty, accessed 5 May
189 Patrick Wight, ‘Ethiopia’s Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect in Tigray’,
Ethiopia Insight, 27 June 2022.
190 , ‘Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar’, no date,, accessed 10 April 2022.
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driven by the ulterior motive of regime change. Despite the limited use of
R2P as a basis for military action in Libya, R2P sceptics have used this case to
delegitimise the concept. In response, Justin Morris argues, R2P’s international
standing would be enhanced by removing the most coercive elements of Pillar
While perhaps more likely to be efective in ending ongoing abuses, military
invasions risk exacerbating human sufering. There exists some degree of con-
sensus among proponents of the three perspectives against military interven-
tion as a solution to humanitarian crises. Alex Bellamy remarks, from a liberal
perspective, that there is something inherently militaristic about how R2P is
operationalised that too often diverts attention away from non-military solu-
tions. Many realists oppose foreign military intervention owing to practical
issues, along with concerns over state sovereignty and national interests. Anti-
imperialists, for their part, contend that powerful states use liberal humanitar-
ian rhetoric to seek acceptance for self-serving invasions.
As Roland Paris argues, ‘the legitimising rationale for preventive humani-
tarian intervention is its altruistic purpose: to prevent mass atrocities. In the
absence of altruism, it is simply “war”’. Multilateral enforcement removes
some of the aura of imperialism and cultural bias that accompanies unilat-
eral action. The only military coalition with the capacity to engage in robust
and sustained enforcement action is , however, which is not an impartial
coalition. Presently, the ability to intervene militarily under R2P is driven by
the interests of the Permanent Members of the Security Council. There is good
reason to raise questions about the self-interested and inconsistent way that
each of these ve countries enforces human rights.
As for UN peacekeepers, their role is to bear witness, document atrocities,
and protect civilians. UN peace missions are not invading forces, and thus
cannot be dispatched without host state consent. Ethiopia and Myanmar
have refused to accept the presence of UN peacekeepers, while it is unlikely
191 Jeffrey Bachman, ‘R2P’s “Ulterior Motive Exemption” and the Failure to Protect Libya’,
Politics and Governance, 3(4) 56–67 (2015).
192 Justin Morris, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the Use of Force: Remaking the
Procrustean Bed?’, Cooperation and Conflict, 51(2) 200–215 (2016).
193 Alex Bellamy, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the Problem of Military Intervention’,
International Affairs, 84(4) 615–639 (2008).
194 Bush et al., ‘Humanitarian Imperialism’, p. 357.
195 Paris, ‘R2P and the Structural Problems of Preventive Humanitarian Intervention’, p. 572.
196 Patryk I. Labuda, ‘UN Peacekeeping as Intervention by Invitation: Host State Consent
and the Use of Force in Security-Council Mandated Stabilisation Operations’, Journal on
the Use of Force and International Law, 7(2) 317–356 (2020).
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China or Russia would agree to deploy a UN peace mission. Host state consent
is not required for military invasions under R2P, which depend on gaining the
approval of the Permanent Five with veto powers at the Security Council. This
approach undermines the ability to dispatch a peacekeeping mission rather
than a state-led military invasion. In cases of disputed sovereignty – such as
Tigray, where  forces control large parts of northern Ethiopia – there is a
strong argument for dispatching peacekeepers without host state consent.
Working through the AU is a viable avenue for peacekeeping, at least in
theory, and sidesteps concerns over Western imperialism being the driving
force behind interventions. Despite the  being fully operational and its
Constitutive Act giving the AU powers to override host state consent, there
has been no movement on sending a regional peacekeeping force to north-
ern Ethiopia. A regional protection force was authorised to maintain secu-
rity in South Sudan’s capital in 2016 but faced delays owing to diculties
securing host state consent and in getting African nations to contribute their
forces. Meanwhile, a similar continental and regional architecture simply
does not exist in Asia for Rohingyas. There is a need to develop such regional
mechanisms alongside global initiatives, such as a standing UN army. To
de-emphasise the role of power and interests, there must also be a rethinking
concerning how such missions are dispatched to de-emphasise the role of the
Permanent Five at the Security Council.
Supporting local armed resistance is one of the only realistic solutions to
stop the atrocities in real time, Mukesh Kapila contends, because external
actors are no good at military intervention and people acting with a geno-
cidal mindset are not amenable to diplomacy. As Kapila observed in Darfur,
the genocide or ethnic cleansing will already be complete if we wait for dip-
lomatic solutions. In this view, the use of violence can be justied under
international law in some contexts, such as when communities band together
197 Paul D. Williams, ‘Key Questions for South Sudan’s New Protection Force’, 12 September
kiir-unmiss/, accessed 10 April 2022.
198 Colum Lynch, ‘Document of the Week: The Mighty UN Fighting Force that Never Was’,
Foreign Policy, 25 September 2020.
199 Mukesh Kapila, ‘Ethiopia and the Responsibility to Protect’, 21 June 2021, https://www
protect.html?c=/artsci, accessed 12 April 2022; Mukesh Kapila, ‘International Responses
to the Tigray War’, 6 August 2021,
international-response-to-the-tigray-war/, accessed 12 April 2022.
200 Mukesh Kapila and Damien Lewis, Against a Tide of Evil: How One Man Became the
Whistleblower to the First Mass Murder of the Twenty-First Century (London: Sharpe
Books, 2019).
wight and cowper-smith
./--|    () -
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to repel genocidal forces. While liberal humanitarians tend to focus on inter-
national diplomacy and other peaceful approaches to address ongoing abuses,
realists emphasise the need to apply countervailing force. Armed resistance
is what has stopped genocide in the past, such as the allied forces ending
the Holocaust and Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front () halting the
Rwandan genocide.
Beyond moral support and coordinating relief eforts, the idea of arming
rebel forces remains controversial because there are no angels in conict.
Supporting local armed resistance raises the potential for blowback in the
form of reprisal attacks committed both by and against the group in question.
The , for instance, was guilty of massacring Hutus on its way to Kigali in
1994 and thereafter in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo
(). In Tigray, after the  gained the upper hand on the battleeld in
June 2021, its operations in Afar and Amhara led to reports of atrocities.
Among Rohingyas, local armed resistance is growing but still limited. Attacks
by armed Rohingya groups like  have only heightened their insecurity.
Jacob and Staunton outline how supporting the country-wide resistance
in Myanmar against the coup d’état with military assistance is complicated
because of issues surrounding legitimacy, the possibility of escalating vio-
lence, and the long-term efects of this type of intervention. Regarding the
people’s defensive war in Myanmar, they write, ‘[it] is not a united movement,
nor are prospects for the creation of a federal army realistic’. They conclude
that, ‘this option is not desirable … and should not routinely be added to the
atrocity prevention toolkit’. At the same time, however, a community that is
unarmed has no means to protect its constituents.
9 Conclusion
This article sought to understand why Tigrayans and Rohingyas continue to
face atrocities when these populations are serious candidates for interventions
201 Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Worse than War: Genocide Eliminationism and the Ongoing
Assault on Humanity (New York: Public Affairs, 2009).
202 Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (New
York: Human Rights Watch, 1999); Mark L. Schneider, ‘Examining the Role of Rwanda
in the  Insurgency’, testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 19
September 2021.
203 Kassa, ‘Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War Spreads to New Regions in Ethiopia’.
204 Jacob and Staunton, ‘R2P and the Support of Civilian Resistance in Myanmar’, p. 9.
205 ibid.
mass atrocities in ethiopia and myanmar
    () -|./--
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based on R2P. We outlined the actions that have been taken in both cases that
are consistent with the principles of R2P, interrogated what actions should
have been taken to end atrocities in real time, and theorised as to how R2P can
be salvaged in ways that seek to minimise human sufering. Our harm mitiga-
tion approach, applied to a comparative analysis of Ethiopia and Myanmar,
demonstrates that all possible responses are pragmatically and ethically thorny.
Non-coercive interventions, such as diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, doc-
umenting atrocities, and public advocacy, are relatively unassailable from an
ethical standpoint but do little to stop abuses in real time and are inhibited
by targeted governments. Coercive interventions, such as economic sanctions,
military invasions, and supporting rebel groups, may be efective in stopping
crimes, but introduce a moral dilemma and risk exacerbating human sufering.
UN peacekeeping is the best approach within a harm mitigation framework
but, much like accountability measures, faces issues tied to state sovereignty.
Meanwhile, non-intervention is the easiest approach but would mean stand-
ing by while human rights abuses are being committed. Faced with this dif-
cult reality, we argue that the R2P doctrine can be more efective when it is
articulated through a pragmatic approach focused on mitigating human suf-
fering. Disassociating R2P from potentially harmful coercive approaches might
be productive. However, in doing so, the international community would be
left with few policy options that can stop abuses as they happen. Ultimately,
both intervention and non-intervention will always have an ethical price tag.
wight and cowper-smith
./--|    () -
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Etiyopya federal hükümeti ve Tigray Halk Kurtuluş Cephesi arasında Kasım 2020’de başlayan olaylar zamanla diğer bölgelere de sıçrayarak ülke içinden ve dışından birçok farklı aktörün de dahil olduğu bir çatışmaya dönüşmüştür. Çatışan tüm tarafların savaş suçu, insanlığa karşı suç ve etnik temizliğe varan eylemler yürüttüğü tespit edilmiş ancak uluslararası toplum zamanında ve kararlı tepki vermemiş ve yaşananlara seyirci kalmıştır. Devletlerin kendi vatandaşlarını etnik temizlik, soykırım, savaş suçu ve insanlığa karşı suçlardan koruyamadığı durumlarda uluslararası toplumun koruma sorumluluğu olduğu kabul edilmesine ve bu yaklaşımın uygulandığı örnekler bulunmasına rağmen Etiyopya’da koruma sorumluluğu gündeme gelmemiş ve uluslararası toplum bir kez daha eylemsizliği tercih etmiştir. Çalışmada koruma sorumluluğunun Etiyopya’da uygulanmamasının ve uluslararası toplumun eylemsizliğinin şiddetin artmasında etkili olduğu savunulmaktadır.
Full-text available
Examines the implications of civilian resistance movements for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and questions whether or not the international community should support these movements as part of its efforts to prevent atrocities and protect civilian populations in situations of atrocity. It provides recommendations as to what kind of support may be acceptable from a R2P standpoint, and likely to achieve prevention and protection outcomes, and which actions members of the international community should avoid.
Full-text available
This article argues that Rohingyas in Myanmar have been deliberately excluded by its government. The claims of the government and political leaders that Rohingyas are illegal migrants could no way be justified due to the clear fact that they have been a part of long history of Burma. Due to the exclusionary policies, this population group has been systematically marginalized, persecuted, deprived of basic rights, and abused. Available protection space for Rohingya refugees in the region has become extremely volatile due to the reluctance to sign the 1951 Convention and a lack of national legal frameworks in most southeast Asian countries. Despite political pressure from the international community and local activists groups calling for the government to stop the violence, there is no sign to end the violence.
Full-text available
Mass atrocity prevention has been controversial, both when members of the international community have taken action as well as when they have failed to do so. In 1999, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the international community to reconcile the need to respect state sovereignty with the need to protect populations from egregious human rights violations. R2P’s emergence offered an opportunity to move past the discourse and practice associated with its predecessor—“humanitarian intervention.” However, while R2P has succeeded in changing the discourse, it has failed to make a change in practice. A source of this failure is R2P’s “ulterior motive exemption.” Using the R2P intervention in Libya as a case study, this article concludes that because ulterior motives existed: (1) NATO’s primary intent of civilian protection quickly evolved into the intent to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi; (2) in exceeding its mandate, NATO committed an act of aggression; (3) NATO continued to militarily support the rebels while they were committing war crimes and severe human rights violations; (4) NATO’s actions resulted in civilian casualties, which NATO has refused to investigate; and (5) NATO abdicated its responsibility to protect Libyans from the human suffering that continued subsequent to Qaddafi’s execution.
Impunity has been a major cause of the atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military, and accountability is generally seen as a central component of R2P. This article traces the changes of attitudes towards R2P-related measures in Myanmar. After 2017, voices gradually emerged from within Myanmar civil society in support of R2P, influenced by international efforts to ensure accountability and documentation. However, this support mostly came from ethnic minority groups. In the broader population and political leadership, calls for R2P were met with general hostility. Since the February 2021 coup, there has been a dramatic change of attitudes towards R2P, at least within the protest movement. However, the growing calls for R2P often reflect a desire for international military intervention that is unlikely to happen. Moreover, domestic efforts to hold the military accountable are now even more unlikely. International action to push for accountability is therefore still needed.
The world has failed the Rohingya. Yet, the essence of this failure is widely misunderstood. While the existing literature on the Rohingya crisis tends to blame specific agents for having failed to fulfil their obligations under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), this article directs our attention to the structural obstacles to mass atrocity prevention in Myanmar. Given the high risk of mass atrocities against the Rohingya and low feasibility of effective protection under any of the three pillars of R2P, it concludes that it was never plausible that R2P could work in this case. The idiom of R2P ‘black holes’ is introduced to denote situations where nothing that can realistically be done within the framework of R2P is likely to be sufficient to prevent mass atrocities or protect the victims.
Contemporary UN peacekeeping missions often have Chapter VII mandates and wide authorisations to use force, notably to protect civilians. Since 2010, however, the Security Council has created a new generation of stabilisation missions to support host governments. Peacekeepers in these missions are expected not only to protect civilians but also to combat armed groups, sometimes jointly with state security forces. While this may seem like just the next step in the UN’s gradual drift from traditional to robust peacekeeping, this article argues that stabilisation constitutes a more radical departure from conventional doctrines on the use of force by peacekeepers. In fact, stabilisation should be understood as a distinct form of UN-mandated intervention by invitation.
The emergence of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) owed much to the need to enhance the UN’s ability to act forcibly in the face of the most extreme cases of gross human suffering. Too often in the past such responses were emasculated or thwarted by the necessity to successfully navigate the UN Charter’s prescriptions over the use of force, by the unwillingness of member states to provide military forces, or by a combination of the two. In accepting that certain types of inhuman activity can lead to the legitimate use of force within the UN Charter framework, the adoption of R2P appeared to resolve at least some of these problems, and as such it offered hope to those wishing to see the UN adopt a more assertive response to the grossest of human rights abuses. But, using stalemate over Syria as its backdrop, this article demonstrates the dubiousness of the claim that such a normative development can ever trump the hard edged political and strategic factors which determine when states will accept and/or participate in the use of force, and it suggests a radical solution to the dangers inherent in R2P’s intimate association with military intervention.
By examining the comparative experiences of Rohingya who fled in the early 1990s to Bangladesh and Malaysia, this paper discusses implications for refugee protection in an Asian regional context characterized by generally applicable immigration measures and a reluctance to offer formal durable solutions. Somewhat secure from refoulement but undifferentiated or even deliberately invisible among larger irregular migrant populations, refugees in the region develop certain protection strategies and livelihood mechanisms outside the boundaries of formal asylum, which suggest they possess significant capacities to carve out their own protection space and achieve a level of de facto integration. Given the migration-focused discourse among states and regional processes as well as the impasse on solutions in Asia, this paper makes the case for further recognition of available, intermediate solutions which capitalize on ambiguities between migration management and refugee protection and empower refugee-driven solutions in all dimensions.
While the normative and legal aspects of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine have been explored in great detail, scholars have largely overlooked the more practical question of whether and how international military action can avert mass atrocities. To shed light on this question, this article investigates the ‘strategic logic’ of preventive humanitarian intervention, or the assumed link between external military action and the desired outcome of preventing or stopping mass killing. It contends that there are five fundamental and seemingly irremediable tensions in this logic, all of which cast doubt on the feasibility of preventive humanitarian intervention and on the long-term prospects of R2P.