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The United States has to step up and show leadership in helping prevent atrocities and genocide around the world, two former top policy makers say in a new report Tuesday.
As crises from Syria to the DR Congo and Sudan compete for global attention and resources, the report says the United Nations and governments are failing to implement effectively a collective responsibility to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The concept of "responsibility to protect" (R2P) was adopted by the UN in 2005 as a set of principles to guide an international response if a government fails to protect its people from mass atrocities.
It is based on three pillars: that it is the duty of every state to protect its people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity; that the international community must help states fulfil this responsibility; and that if a state fails its citizens other countries should be prepared to take action under the UN Charter.
But the report by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former US envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson says the guidelines have been unevenly adopted.
"The terrible carnage in Syria illustrates that the international community's embrace of R2P is not sufficient, in itself, to prevent a ruthless dictator from inflicting grievous harm on his own citizens," the report says.
And it argues that more is needed if the policy is to be effectively implemented.
"We believe the prospects for success depend on the attitudes and actions of many countries over time, but that the US willingness to lead will be pivotal," the report says.
Commissioned by the US Holocaust Museum, the US Institute of Peace and the Brookings Institution, it sets out a series of recommendations for the US administration to step up its commitment and move to engage other nations.
"I think the truth is that it takes a while for these norms to take effect. I think they feel that in some cases the policy has been very useful and in others it hasn't been implemented as effectively," said Mike Abramowitz, director for the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the Holocaust Museum.
Both Albright and Williamson "have been very concerned about the ongoing prevalence of atrocities," he told AFP, adding that "we seem perpetually to do not such a great job in preventing these kinds of atrocities."
Where the policy is implemented there have been some successes, such as in Kenya, Ivory Coast and in Libya where a no-fly zone helped protect rebels fighting against late dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Although there was a "unique set of circumstances" that made the international intervention in Libya possible, it showed how the principle of responsibility to protect "can be applied to save lives and hold accountable those responsible for violations of humanitarian law," the report said.
"It's clear that given what's going on the in world, that R2P has not worked the way it's supposed to in Syria," Abramowitz said.
"Certainly the Assad government has not upheld its responsibility to protect and clearly the international community has failed too. I would not read this as a veiled criticism of the US and the UN. I think they are just pointing out that R2P has not been implemented and there's a lot of people that share the blame for that."
Part of the problem was a lack of political will in some cases.
"Decision makers must recognize the doctrine as both universal and continuous, applying to every country at all times. We urge the world community to proceed on this basis," the report says.
It pointed to the killings of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war which produced little outcry.
"Of equal concern are long-dysfunctional states, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, where leaders and non-state actors have frequently committed atrocities as a political tactic."
Leaders in both countries were "unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities," the co-chairs Albright and Williamson wrote.
"In these cases, states are so weak and the security challenges so great that civilian populations dwell in seemingly permanent danger."
The report argued the United States should draw up a plan to boost its own capacity to help prevent atrocities. It could also employ tools such as satellite imagery, intercepting or jamming communications, blocking financial accounts, and exposing the names of individuals or groups known to be helping perpetrators.