The twentieth century was marred by genocide, inter-ethnic conflicts and heinous war crimes. From the Holocaust and “killing fields” of Cambodia, to genocide in Rwanda and mass killings in Srebrenica, the failure to protect civilians from armed conflict and crimes against humanity has penetrated borders, crossed countries and kinship lines, and impacted on both poor and rich nations.
On 15 July 2011, a new United Nations University Press book, Blood and Borders: The Responsibility to Protect and the Problem of the Kin-State, was officially released in a book launch event held at the International Peace Institute (IPI) in Vienna. This bold new work, which critiques the kin-state dilemma at the core of many such failures to protect vulnerable civilians, was edited by Walter Kemp, Vesselin Popovski and Ramesh Thakur.
As its title suggests, Blood and Borders explores what happens when geographical, physical borders are blurred by bloodlines of nationhood or ethnicity. It addresses such questions as: When minority groups in one country are targeted for killings or ethnic cleansing based on their group identity, whose responsibility is it to protect them? In particular, are they owed any protective responsibility by their “kin” state? How can cross-border kinship ties strengthen greater pan-national identity across borders without challenging territorially defined national security?
The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) concept offers a new international security and human rights norm to address the all-too-frequent failure to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. A recent (2009) UN General Assembly Report to the Secretary-General (A/63/677) referred to RtoP as a response to “the profound failure of individual States to live up to their most basic and compelling responsibilities, as well as the collective inadequacies of international institutions” and the international community.
Speaking at the launch of Blood and Borders, co-editor of the book Dr. Vesselin Popovski, Senior Academic Officer at the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP), cautioned that “although the world cannot stand by when minority rights are being violated, neither can the protection of national minorities be used by kin-states as an excuse to violate state sovereignty.”
Popovski, along with another of the volume’s editors, Dr. Walter Kemp, Director for Europe and Central Asia at IPI Vienna, were special guests at the launch and participated in a roundtable discussion on RtoP challenges.
“Taking unilateral action to protect kin in neighbouring states is a perversion of the RtoP norm, and can spark conflict”, warned Kemp. “This problem could be avoided if states were more responsible towards their minorities and their neighbours.”
Edward Mortimer, Vice President of the Salzburg Global Seminar (and former Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General), facilitated the roundtable. “Historically, kin-states have played a destructive role, and in many instances they continue to do so”, Mortimer said. “But the sense of kinship is often an essential feature of people’s self-image and cannot be wished away, so it is better to try and use it constructively, as has happened in Ireland.”
Blood and Borders covers a range of problems with and perspectives on RtoP and the kin-state dilemma, and offers practical experiences and illustrations from across the globe, including cases from Hungary, Syria and Lebanon, Vietnam, Russia, Nigeria and Brazil .
More information on Blood and Borders is available from UNU Press on the UNU website.