International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute, and Palliate by Kurt Mills (review)
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International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute, and Palliate, Kurt Mills (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 320 pp., hardcover $69.95, electronic version available.

Kurt Mills, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights at the University of Glasgow, has produced a well-organized and well-written study on responses to mass atrocity. By the latter term he refers to the usual understanding: genocide, crimes against humanity, major war crimes, and/or ethnic cleansing. He uses four African cases as his specific examples: Rwanda at the time of the genocide, Uganda in dealing with the Lord's Resistance Army, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Darfur. In a creative and useful contribution, he employs an analytical scheme to discuss options: palliation (humanitarian assistance), protection (mainly enforcement or second-generation peacekeeping), and prosecution (with great attention to the International Criminal Court). These options he refers to as R2P3: the Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute, and Palliate.

The case studies are presented clearly, with a largely accurate understanding of both the problems and the international responses. They are followed by an integrated discussion of the successes and failures to date in the implementation of the [End Page 137] principle of R2P, which was endorsed at the United Nations in 2005. This discussion centers on norms, institutions, and authority.

Mills is right in stating that R2P represents a normative advance (p. 208). The principle implies, as is widely recognized, that state claims to sovereign authority and domestic jurisdiction cannot be a license to commit or allow atrocities. If a state is unwilling or unable to block such atrocities, or respond in an appropriate way, outsiders have a duty to involve themselves—in keeping with international law. As Mills demonstrates, the heart of the matter involves questions about how to move from theory to effective practice.

The book surveys international options for assisting individuals in dire straits, but it offers no solutions to the problems encountered. This the author acknowledges at the start: "By clearly delineating these manifold conundrums, and exploring how they play out in a variety of circumstances, the job of … stopping mass atrocities becomes a little clearer" (p. 2). But that job has not become easier, as his general conclusion demonstrates: "What comes through most clearly from the analysis in this book is that while significant developments have occurred in the areas of human rights and humanitarian norms …, the application of those norms has fallen significantly short of the idealism behind the norms" (p. 216). This conclusion is not new.

The case studies nicely demonstrate what Mills calls "the conundrums" for organizations trying to do good—whether aid agencies, UN security deployments, or courts. As has long been true, and not just in Africa, aid agencies may incur criticism when they work with governmental schemes that cause hardship and even death. He notes as an example the efforts of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to assist the Ugandan government in moving civilians to create free-fire zones that would allow attacks on the Lord's Resistance Army. The camps became a humanitarian disaster, and UNHCR became complicit in that disaster. Likewise, the author points to a problem that surfaced in both Democratic Congo and Afghanistan: military vehicles that were used to deliver aid one day were used in military attacks the next. This jeopardized any efforts to distribute neutral and impartial relief, as enemy fighters proved less than scrupulous in attempting to differentiate between the two types of operation. Mills also discusses the well-known problem of activating recourse to criminal justice: threatening or initiating prosecution may in fact harden opponents' views and prolong fighting. This policy choice was as problematic in the Balkans in the early 1990s as it was in the Sudan's Darfur region during the time of Omar al-Bashir.

Mills is quite correct when he writes: "The world has witnessed a sea change in human rights norms since 1945. Sovereignty means something different now" (p. 208). But his case studies and his general analysis, while quite good, might have led into a deeper discussion of why it has proven so difficult to implement the norm of Responsibility to...