Reviews of

International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa:

Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute and Palliate

I discuss the book with the Academic Council on the United Nations System here.

“International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa is an unusually thoughtful and nuanced contribution to the growing literature on mass atrocity prevention. Its detailed case studies and innovative protect, prosecute, and palliate framework offer fresh insights into why the implementation of R2P principles has lagged behind their normative development. Kurt Mills has proven, once again, that he belongs in the ranks of the world's leading human rights and humanitarian scholars.”—Edward Luck, first United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect

“Kurt Mills takes seriously our collective responsibility to halt atrocities, to prosecute their perpetrators, and to help those in the cross-hairs of armed conflicts. His focus is Africa, where feeble international responses in too many crises have demonstrated that "never again" is an aspiration and not a reality. His is an indispensable guide for anyone thinking about how to respond to conscience-shocking international crimes.”—Thomas G. Weiss, The CUNY Graduate Center

“Too often, it is taken for granted that the international community's political, judicial and humanitarian responses to major crises are complementary. In this important volume, Kurt Mills explodes that myth and demonstrates the tensions between them and the ways in which they sometimes undermine one another. Combining detailed examination of some of the most crucial contemporary cases with a keen sense for broader political and normative trends, this is one of those rare volumes that is successful both at diagnosing the problem and offering viable solutions. With fine prose, Mills offers an important new perspective that will shape debate about how to respond to civil wars, mass atrocities and other humanitarian crises for years to come.”—Alex J. Bellamy, The University of Queensland, Australia

“International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa makes a novel move by analyzing the responsibility to protect, the responsibility to prosecute, and the responsibility to palliate comprehensively. It is the first work that takes this collective approach, and there is much to be gained by doing so. This is an important book.”—William W. Burke-White, University of Pennsylvania

A fascinating and important work that is timely and undoubtedly long-lasting about what the international community needs to be doing about atrocity prevention. As the author himself mentions at the beginning, this treatise is simultaneously historical, analytical, and normative. Thankfully, while providing four thought-provoking and important African case studies as the main body, the work is not overly historical. Providing probing analysis and lensing this through a normative framework that takes as a given a global responsibility to ‘do something’ has created the best kind of research, something I call ‘scholarly policy.’ By this we mean the work holds its own in terms of intellectual and theoretical gravitas, but is written in a manner that is accessible for all readers and clearly aims to provide positive momentum in policy generation. This is not a work that hopes to sit on the sideline or not be addressed and considered by real-world decision-makers. This is a good thing, given the topic addressed is so depressingly serious. After all, three of the four tragic case studies within the book are basically still ongoing. A much-needed addition to a growing literature.” —Matthew Crosston, Bellevue University (CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June 2016)

Kurt Mills’ International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to Protect Prosecute and Palliate is a fabulous contribution to the study of human security. The author has written extensively on human rights, security, international justice, and international organizations, and this book extends his previous work to assess major international responses to atrocities in the African continent. Mills provides an amalgam of three approaches—protection, prosecution, and palliation—to address the world’s most intractable conflicts. His book is also a trenchant reminder of how difficult it is to solve the problem of mass atrocities.

“Mills raises an interesting question: How should we understand different kinds of international responses with an eye toward ending mass atrocities? The norm is now famously called the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). The book deals with three primary methods of R2P intervention: protection, palliation, and prosecution (3Ps hereafter). Protection refers to peacekeeping activities with the primary goal of protecting civilian lives. Palliation refers to humanitarian actions to aid the victims in conflict zones with the aim of reducing suffering. Prosecution refers to the application of international justice through international tribunals, and more recently, via the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This is a welcome addition to the list of books on international responses to civil conflicts. The academic culture of publish or perish often pushes scholars into narrowing their focus to just one response, be it peacekeeping, or humanitarian action, or prosecution. Looking at them as a whole provides a novel view of international responses to atrocious conflicts.

The book’s key contribution is to subvert the assumption that the three international responses to atrocities (protection, prosecution, and palliation) reinforce each other. In fact, Mills forcefully argues and convincingly demonstrates that, at times, the 3Ps undermine each other’s efforts. The three responses have the same goal: saving lives. Yet, as Mills shows, employing those three methods at the same time might be infeasible and may produce trade-offs and moral quandaries.

“The trade-offs among protection, prosecution, and palliation, are starkly described. Palliation, for example, decreases the motivation for protection. The pressure to “do something” might motivate politicians to rely solely on humanitarian assistance and nothing more. In this case, protection might not occur. Mills claims that this what happened in Darfur and Rwanda. Similarly, the prosecution effort might reduce the incentive to protect. International actors supported the ICC’s involvement in the DRC, but it might have hindered the protection efforts via peacekeeping. These tradeoffs are important lessons for protectors, prosecutors, and palliators—the key protagonists in R2P efforts.

Moral conundrums also abound in employing the three responses. Palliation via humanitarian action might prolong conflict. When humanitarians co-opt rebel elements, they may inadvertently reduce the incentive for protection, and thereby, lengthen the war. Also, humanitarians might be averse to participating in prosecution activities and refuse to take the stand as witnesses. Injecting international justice into the middle of a conflict could also upset the conflict dynamics. Many previous observers have noted that prosecution might undermine the peace process, usually termed as the issue of “peace-versus-justice.” When the ICC is involved, there is a possibility that the peace process might be derailed, as belligerents negotiate hard for amnesty. Mills presents such an example in the case of the ICC’s involvement in Uganda. Policymakers, humanitarians, and international justice lawyers will agree that they all face these difficult moral quandaries.

“The empirical scope of the book covers four cases: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Sudan/Darfur. These are cases that involved all 3P efforts. To this reader’s mind, detailed and well-researched descriptions come at the price of a more analytical lens of the 3P tradeoffs. For example, the chapter on Uganda reads as a summary of the ICC involvement in Uganda rather than a discussion of how the 3Ps cohere. Despite this quibble, readers will still learn a great deal about how the conflicts of these four countries progressed and how 3Ps manifested in each conflict. It is however worth asking how the findings travel to other conflict regions beyond Africa. The situations in Libya and Syria are discussed briefly in the book, and I believe the author’s main arguments about the key trade-offs and moral quandaries will apply to international responses in other parts of the world. However, we will have to see, primarily because international justice efforts (one of the 3Ps) are primarily in Africa.

“The book leaves this reader with three main observations and critiques. The first is about other intervention methods beyond the 3Ps. It is true that protection, palliation, and prosecution are dominant modes of outside engagement in conflict zones, but how about other methods, such as diplomatic efforts to mediate, aiding rebels (or governments) as an outside intervener, sanctioning by powerful countries or the United Nations Security Council, or engaging in state-building efforts? How do these interact with the strategies Mills describes? These questions are of utmost importance in forging international responses to conflicts, and I hope this question will be addressed in future research.

“The political preferences of the main actors are also underdeveloped in this work. It is important to recognize the disparate political preferences of these political actors (protectors, prosecutors, and humanitarians). Protectors are usually serving membership at the United Nations or regional organizations (African Union in the African context). Prosecutors’ principal aim is achieving justice. Although the Rome Statute preamble states the goal of world peace, the ICC is, after all, an institution of justice. Lastly, humanitarians work within the bounds of their organizational means and ends. The recent divergent tactics of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Doctors without Borders is one such example. Although the book’s author recognizes various political preferences as constraints, the implications of these preferences are not explicated thoroughly enough for this reader.

“My third and last observation is with regards to “what to do.” I put down the book with a heavy heart. We now better understand how different methods (3Ps) interact and we have learned that three methods might go hand-in-hand. How “should” they cohere in practice? Coordination seems to be the insurmountable task, given the (sometimes) divergent political interests of humanitarian actors, the ICC, the UN peacekeeping forces. More importantly, who has the ultimate say? World politics is run without a central executive body. This means that nobody can decidedly choose among the menu of palliation, protection, or prosecution.

“Also, when should we opt for protection over palliation, when we are forced to choose one over the other? Under what conditions should the three methods (or pair of methods) be substitutes or complements? The author’s conclusion to these matters is not often satisfying: “The issue…comes down to political will to choose and implement the most appropriate response(s)…” (p. 52) or “I am not sure, but it does seem clear that all the actors involved could act in a manner that better contributed to protection, however imperfect that protection might be” (p. 173). Some prescriptions for how to balance intervention in conflict would be worthwhile, and maybe it is the job of other international relations scholars to answer this question.

“No one book can answer all the important questions. Mills’ effort to examine the three international responses together and not separately is in itself enough to be highly lauded and celebrated. His book starts with great questions and leaves important questions behind. Readers will learn a great deal, and be left with important questions of their own to ponder.”–Hyeran Jo, Texas A&M University, (Perspectives on Politics, June 2016)

In the past decade, studies on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) have grown exponentially. In 2015 alone, nine academic journals published special issues on the R2P to coincide with the tenth anniversary of its endorsement at the World Summit. At this rate, it will not be long before R2P studies will be regarded as a sub-discipline in its own right – in the same way that Genocide Studies is. Against this backdrop, any new publication faces the difficult task of first evidencing its originality and, second, making its voice heard in a crowded discourse. Mills rises to this challenge.

This is a ground-breaking study. It pioneers a new threefold approach to the study of mass violence. The author labels this ‘R2P3’ as he investigates the norms and practices associated with the responsibilities to protect, prosecute, and palliate. The first addresses the R2P agreement set out in 2005, the second looks at the International Criminal Court (ICC), while the third focuses on the measures (such as international aid) taken to provide help to the victims of mass violence. Whereas previous studies have tended to focus on either the R2P or the ICC or humanitarianism (broadly defined), this unique book explores the dynamics between these three responsibilities. Essentially, this tripartite approach acts as the conceptual lens which is then used to analyse four case studies: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Darfur. The focus is therefore very much on African states but is adjusted to consider the local, national, regional, and international contexts. For example, we often meet sub-sections on the role of the African Union, the United Nations, and even the United States as the author strives to show the global politics at play. Meanwhile, he draws on interviews conducted with diplomats, policy makers, and practitioners at the UN headquarters in New York and Geneva, AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, and the ICC in The Hague.

“One could be forgiven for thinking that, because each of these three responsibilities strives to protect human populations from mass violence, they should be understood as complementary approaches; however, Mills sheds light on the complexities and trade-offs that arise when these three interrelate. Striving to go beyond the peace versus order dichotomy, Mills puts forward a more nuanced analysis that captures the positive and negative implications that stem from the R2P3 relations. For example, in his discussion of the crisis in Uganda (Chapter 4), Mills analyses all the features of the R2P3 within the insecurity complex that has developed. We are informed that the palliation was ‘pure’ but that this ‘enabled some very unhumanitarian activities by the government’, and that the involvement of the ICC seemingly ‘empowered’ the Ugandan government whilst the ‘protection’ (of people from the LRA by forcing them into poorly equipped camps) actually had the opposite effect of increasing misery (pp. 169–70). In addition, his analysis highlights the complexities involved for different organizations as the AU's approach post-2009 is said to provide a ‘veneer of legitimacy’, yet questions of ‘legality and authority’ lingered and the EU remained ‘sceptical’ (p. 165). This, of course, has broader implications for those studying Africa's place in the politics of interventions. Juxtaposed with the other case studies, the reader is presented with a mixed bag of R2P3 results. These are succinctly summarized in the conclusion of each case study chapter as Mills presents – via a ‘responsibility conundrum table’ – an overview of the positive and negative implications of R2P3 in each crisis. These tables will also act as an extremely useful teaching tool and illustrate another merit of the book: its very clear and concise structure.

The monograph raises important themes for future studies of human protection against mass violence. For example, despite the noble intentions [sometimes] embodied in the R2P3 dynamic, Mills's study reveals that such assistance measures can unintentionally legitimize perpetrator regimes, hinder a peace process, increase mass violence, and have counterproductive results all round. These are issues that are important for other crises in Africa, such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Burundi, as well as non-African states such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen at this time of writing. The extent to which this book can shape the discourse of responsible and protective international intervention will depend not on the book itself so much as on whether scholars will rise to the challenge of going beyond a singular protective approach – the R2P or the ICC or humanitarianism – in fully engaging with the R2P3 of protection, prosecution, and palliation.”—Adrian Gallagher, Leeds University (African Affairs, 2016)

Bridging the Gap between Promise and Politics in the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine 

Kurt Mills’s International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa is a much-needed addition to literature on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), norms development, and humanitarianism. Mills makes explicit what is intended by the R2P-inspired call to “do something” about mass atrocities as he explains the three P’s of response (R2P3): responsibility to protect, responsibility to prosecute, and responsibility to palliate. His most interesting contributions to the literature are the framing of humanitarian work as palliation and questioning the usefulness of palliation when it is not undertaken in concert with other approaches. Mills’s perspective provides ample reason to be more reflective about responses to mass atrocity so that they can actually accomplish their intended goals. 

The project of this book is to be more specific about the expectations of responses to mass atrocities. Examination of cases shows that goals are varying and, at times, conflicting, which makes naming them conceptually helpful. Protection focuses on a more substantial responsibility than is envisioned in more traditional protection of civilians (PoC) approaches. Prosecution is emphasized in the actions of ad hoc tribunals, national courts, special courts, or the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palliation is the work done by humanitarians to care for those in the middle of con ict, and Mills’s use of this term evoking end of life palliative care is quite purposeful. He describes the important and difficult work of humanitarians while also exposing the practical limitations of such work, as it focuses on the symptoms rather than the cure. 

Access to populations in need of such care often requires an impartiality on the part of humanitarians which makes it difficult for them to engage in the other goals of R2P3. Being overly critical of the governments of host countries in which humanitarians operate may result in their expulsion. is consideration can also underscore conflicts between the broader, political goals of human rights responses–particularly prosecution–and the specific goals of humanitarianism, which focus primarily on keeping people alive in the middle of con ict. Mills uses the analogy of the refugee camp as hospice as he explains the challenge of humanitarian care, in which people are kept alive “until the war–either directly through an attack by armed forces or indirectly through malnutrition and war-associated disease–kills them” (p. 22). Through explaining the three P’s of R2P3 Mills is able to highlight the at times incongruous nature of these components, and the complexity of responses to mass atrocity. 

It is the lack of specificity about what response is required, what the relationship between actors ought to be, and where responsibility lies that allows governments to strategically use the language of R2P to their political advantage. Without such specificity, states are able to actively obfuscate their responsibility to meaningfully do something as they instead back measures that provide a veneer of response without doing what actually needs to be done to reach the goals of R2P. In other words, the norm of R2P has grown even as international political will remains selective. 

In choosing cases on the African continent, Mills shows this variation of political will as he compares the relative lack of response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) despite millions of dead against the much more substantial attention given to anything that can be construed as part of the war on terror. While both certainly feature violations of basic human rights, Mills makes clear that action related to the war on terror garners significantly more international political will than do the horrors related to the DRC and Africa’s World War. 

Mills goes through extensive reviews of four key cases to provide cautionary tales of piecemeal responses that permit atrocities to cross borders (Rwanda to the DRC, and Uganda to both the DRC and South Sudan), of responses in which the lack of coordination of actors can disproportionately impact humanitarians given their daily local interactions (kidnappings or attacks on humanitarians after ICC warrants in the DRC and Darfur), or of responses that rely on the state in such a way that humanitarians find themselves either enabling state control of local populations (Uganda) or being unable to more overtly criticize human rights violations if such criticism risks endangering humanitarian access to populations in need (DRC, Uganda, and Darfur). 

The must-read case study which best highlights the gap between the norm of R2P and the responses to mass atrocities at the local level is the chapter on Uganda. In this carefully presented chapter, Mills is able to show the full complexity of responses to mass atrocity, and the problem of unreflective imperatives to do something. The Ugandan government was able to co-opt humanitarian imperatives to “do something” to such an extent that humanitarian aid could be counted upon in calculations of government actions to bring populations under more direct government control. This was shown in the example of Ugandan government’s mass relocation projects, which would have been prohibitively expensive had not food, medical supplies, and shelter aid come from humanitarians who intended to respond to the very real needs of people on the ground without looking at the overall cause of the crisis. e government was also able to encourage international concern about and criminal warrants for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) while escaping criticism of its actions, even when some of these actions employed tactics similar to those of the LRA. is case also showed the challenges of the peace versus justice debate in an ongoing con ict, when attempts at prosecution may prolong con ict while at the same time local peace initiatives may be inadequate for victims who do want prosecutions. is chapter builds on previous cases of palliation that made it easier for states to avoid actual responsibility to “do something” while simultaneously lowering the costs for the Ugandan government to commit atrocities of its own. 

Through these cases, Mills shows that each of the three P’s, unsurprisingly, do not automatically reinforce each other. The goals for different actors can conflict with the work of other actors. This is most strongly emphasized in conflicts between human rights actors’ emphasis on prosecution and humanitarian actors’ emphasis on providing care to those in the midst of war. Mills also highlights the challenges for humanitarians themselves in terms of the broader goals of ending mass atrocity, as their palliative neutrality can instead prolong the con ict or even be co-opted by state actors. Indeed, these state agents sometimes find that they can include humanitarian care as part of their strategic and logistical considerations in order to provide a veneer of good will toward ending mass atrocity. Mills’s framing particular humanitarian responses as palliation helps highlight the ways in which the very good motivations of humanitarians– the motivation to provide care–may sometimes interfere with broader goals to end the con ict fueling the atrocities. 

Mills provides voice to the realistic power concerns of those who may hold responsibility but do not want to use resources to do something any more than will pacify activists, those who are concerned about the impact of R2P on their sovereignty but who also see ways that the language of R2P can be capitalized on to advocate for interventions which benefit their side, and those human rights and humanitarian actors on the ground whose goals often need to be balanced with the practical questions of what can be done in that moment given lack of political will to provide the support needed for such actors to more fully realize their goals. In providing this voice, he also calls readers to be more cautious and reflective. Most importantly, his text provides concrete reasons why those using international norms like R2P to encourage their own states to respond to mass atrocity themselves need to take such power concerns much more realistically. In the messiness of response to mass atrocity, if the political will garnered is minimal it is unlikely to meet local activists’ demands. Unsupported and poorly coordinated responses can actually lead to spreading con ict across other borders rather than ending atrocity. Unsupported humanitarians are left to garner what access they can, which o en involves turning an eye away from atrocities committed by the government in whose state they find themselves, or at least avoiding systemic documentation and outcry against such behaviors. e takeaway for those committed to a meaningful response to mass atrocity that can live up to the norm of R2P is that they should pay close attention. 

Mills also shows the distance between the development of the R2P norm and the implementation of the norm as he carefully shows the conflicts within the norm itself, and the strong influence of political will on the success or failure of its implementation. In showing this process of norm creation, development, and implantation on the African continent, Mills situates the continent as a fundamental site of knowledge for international relations, both in the development of R2P after international failures in Rwanda and in the implementation of R2P. He frequently highlights the disparity between the norm and the practice in very helpful ways that permit readers to see exactly why specificity about R2P3 is required for successful attainment of goals. It is the selective application of norms by those without the political will to fully implement them that is often the problem. is is certainly not a new phenomenon, as this challenge from power politics is seen more broadly in human rights norms, but it is helpful that Mills specifically names the problem within the R2P literature. 

In helping readers understand the palliative component of humanitarianism, the selective application of R2P norms, and the tensions between human rights goals and humanitarian goals, Mills shows the messiness of international efforts to “do something” when the political will does not exist for concrete measures that will end mass atrocities. Part of this is answered by naming the goals of responses in R2P3so that expectations are clear, facilitating coordination and thoughtful responses. The other part of the answer is to encourage advocacy from specialists and other readers of his text as they use the more specific language of R2P3and a healthy hope that drives all such actors committed to seeing more meaningful application of norms. The epigraph quoting Zap Mama which starts the book shows why Mills’s cautionary tale still gives cause for hope: “it’s not too late for making a new world; it’s not too late for making a better world.” Making R2P3 explicit makes it possible to see its differing, and sometimes conflicting, goals, and, to plan a response accordingly. Not just any response will do, if the goal is to end atrocities. 

In addition to helping practitioners btter coordinate, Mills’s approach can strengthen the advocacy efforts of all who wish to see R2P employed to actually end mass atrocities under way. Specificity in the advocated response lets governments and international organizations know exactly what response will satisfy the demands of the advocacy, making it difficult to satisfy demands for actions with veneers which lack substance. It is better to have some response than no response, but Mills demonstrates that this type of response to situations of atrocity often leaves victims in an in-between world by keeping them alive without making anything about the underlying situation better. 

Mills helps us more clearly understand what is increasingly meant by R2P, particularly the question of R2P3, and is especially successful at showing the tensions between the conflicting responses to mass atrocity and the contexts in which humanitarians find themselves. Mill’s work helps to question the gap between the goals of humanitarian action and the practice. By connecting this with palliative care, readers are able to re-think humanitarianism itself as well as responses to mass atrocities more broadly so that such responses can make a new and better world.”–Laura Roost, Pennsylvania State University (H-Human-Rights, H-Net Reviews, December, 2016,

“How have, can, and should mass atrocities be addressed?” (Mills 2015, p.1). In the aftermath of 2016, a year in which we witnessed atrocities in Syria on an almost unimaginable scale and a year in which the so-called “international community” responded to the ongoing slaughter with cataclysmic (yet, of course, not unfamiliar) inactivity, which question could possibly be more topical for students, scholars and practitioners of international relations?

Precisely this question constitutes the linchpin of Kurt Mills’ book International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa – Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute and Palliate. In seeking to shed light on it, Mills tries to combine a historical (“have”) with an analytical (“can”) and a normative (“should”) approach and weave them into a coherent narrative. This, no doubt, is an ambitious and complex undertaking which requires Mills to strike a balance between theoretical and empirical analysis. Therefore, Mills structures his book in the following way: He starts with a (mainly) theoretical Chapter that “interrogates international obligations” in the context of mass atrocities such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or ethnic cleansing. This Chapter, in other words, establishes the theoretical framework for the subsequent four case studies on Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Darfur. In the last – and, unfortunately, by far the shortest – Chapter, Mills addresses some of the normative questions and conundrums that have emerged from the previous analysis: In particular, Mills argues that labels (such as “mass atrocities” or “genocide”) matter and that the media, diplomats and activists should employ these labels with increased sensitivity; secondly, he maintains that it would be a mistake to believe that different actors, norms and institutions of the “international community” necessarily pursue the same goals and purposes in a given conflict; and finally, he concludes that questions of global authority which inevitably arise in the context of mass atrocities are – despite the existence of organs like the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) – presently not sufficiently understood and, as a consequence, cannot be satisfactorily addressed.

Having provided this necessarily brief overview of the book`s structure, let us return to and look in more detail at Chapter 1 in which Mills constructs the theoretical lens through which he later analyses a selection of conflicts. The core argument developed here is that the international community’s responsibility with respect to mass atrocities entails, in fact, three separate responsibilities – he refers to this tripartite responsibility as “R2P³”: First, the international community has what Mills calls the “responsibility to palliate”, that is, the duty to provide humanitarian aid in cases of mass atrocities (p.16). The second international obligation, according to Mills, is the “responsibility to prosecute” perpetrators of mass atrocities under international law, primarily, of course, through the ICC. Finally, there is an international “responsibility to protect” civilians from mass atrocities. While this “responsibility to protect” is, as Mills indicates, the central dimension of R2P³, it has only recently been recognised as an international responsibility, most notably, with the publication of the report of the International Committee on Sovereignty and State Sovereignty in 2001 and the universal endorsement of its underlying principles at the 2005 World Summit (pp.31-39). The central theme of the book, and, in my view, its most valuable and original contribution to the existing literature on mass atrocities, is Mills’ diagnosis of the inherently problematic relationship between these three international responsibilities. This problem is succinctly summarised in the following way (p.48):

They all have the same goal – to protect lives. One might assume, then, that they are mutually enforcing. That is, the implementation of one would support the implementation of another…However, this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, applying one or more of these responses may, in fact, get in the way of, or undermine other responses.

According to the author, this “very complicated relationship” (p.51) between the responsibilities to palliate, prosecute and protect stems from the fact that “they all have a different balance” (p.39): Palliation, Mills maintains, is based on humanitarianism, prosecution is, in principle, legal action, and protection is, first and foremost, a political activity. This can lead to vexed conundrums in real-life situations: The paradox of palliation, for example, is that while it often provides desperately needed humanitarian assistance on the ground, it can also create a dangerous “illusion of adequate response when, in fact, the response is far from adequate” (p.48); after all, humanitarianism can only alleviate the suffering of victims but lacks the potential to end the conflict itself. This, Mills argues, is precisely what happened during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 where the presence of aid workers created a deceiving illusion of protection which provided a fatal cover for inaction, reduced the prospects of effective protection and thus contributed to the continuation of the conflict (p.75).

Serious tensions can also arise between the responsibilities to prosecute and protect. Legal prosecution of perpetrators, Mills rightly observes, can, in theory, work at three different levels: First, international criminal law has, of course, primarily been developed as a “retrospective system” which is designed to legally prosecute perpetrators after they had committed atrocities (p.42). Recently, however, the idea has emerged that international criminal law can and should be used as a tool to prevent atrocities; the threat of criminal prosecution, so the argument goes, can be utilised as an effective deterrent to prevent the further escalation of crises. For Mills, however, empirical evidence clearly demonstrates that the deterrent capability of the ICC is “close to non-existent” (p.42). Finally, there remains the so-called “conflict management strategy”, that is, the prosecution of perpetrators during ongoing conflicts with the aim to facilitate the protection of potential victims. Again, Mills regards this strategy as deeply problematic (p.49):

Prosecution can punish people for their crimes. This is its institutional purpose. However, inserting prosecution into the middle of a conflict can have unforeseen consequences and require difficult trade-offs. The most obvious…is that potential prosecution can have an impact on peace negotiations, with the very unhumanitarian impact of prolonging the conflict. Combatants with arrest warrants against them may be less likely to come to an accommodation, knowing what possible fate might await them. Such international action might also interfere with domestic efforts to institute amnesty laws which might contribute to peace processes and post-conflict reconciliation.

Here Mills alludes to a problem which is known as the “peace versus justice” debate in the international criminal justice literature. The dilemma, to put it simply, is that the goal of delivering justice through criminal prosecution is often detrimental to efforts to establish peace. The textbook example in this context is, of course, the recent conflict in Uganda which Mills discusses at length in Chapter 4. This Chapter, in my view, perfectly reveals the true complexity of Mills` task, a complexity that excuses, maybe even justifies, Mills` habit of drawing seemingly overly cautious conclusions such as this: “Peace and justice are not inherently dichotomous” but “the dominant discourse in Uganda has put peace and justice in opposition” (p.159). All three dimensions of R2P³, Mills further argues, have been (and still are) at work in the Ugandan conflict; at times they have supported and at other times of the conflict they have undermined each other. Chapter 3, which analyses the protracted conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, leads to a broadly similar picture. For what we see in the DRC, Mills concludes, “is a muddled mess where precursor and proto R2P activities debuted, international criminal justice gained prominence but was also problematized, and the dilemmas for humanitarians continued” (p.83). Needless to say, then, that the two remaining case studies on Rwanda and Darfur only confirm this general picture of highly complicated and, indeed, impenetrable crises in which it is a delicate task to balance the imperatives of humanitarian palliation, legal prosecution and political protection[1].

To be clear, Mills’ emphasis on the complexity and intractability of these crises should be regarded as one of the book`s strengths. What I do find disappointing, though, is the absence of constructive proposals how the tensions between the three responsibilities of R2P³ could be defused. Hence, while Mills, more elaborately than anyone before him, I believe, demonstrates that and how the imperatives of palliation, prosecution and protection can be mutually undermining, he, unfortunately, stops short of contriving substantiated solutions for this problem. In particular, it would be interesting to know whether Mills thinks that there are context-independent guidelines which could facilitate the easing of tensions between the three respective responsibilities or – as I think he does – if he insists on the unique nature and peculiar complexities of each and every conflict and thus advocates a case-by-case approach. This question, I think, could and should have been addressed in a more comprehensive final Chapter.

This critical remark, however, should by no means diminish the overall quality of this remarkable work. Mills’ convincing core thesis of the three frequently colliding responsibilities of R2P³ is skillfully developed in theory and corroborated by meticulously researched case studies. As such, this book should be required reading not only for students and scholars of International Relations but also for practitioners who all too often rather uncritically assume a harmony between humanitarian palliation, legal prosecution and political protection[2].–Christof Royer, E-International Relations (27 January 2017)

[1] Mills nicely illustrates this by providing tables which succinctly summarise the “Protection Conundrum” generated by each of the four conflicts (pp. 80, 127, 172, 203).

[2] See, for example, Fatou Bensouda`s recent argument that “accountability and the rule of law provide the framework to protect individuals and nations from massive atrocities…The Court (ICC) – and justice in general – are part of the responsibility to protect” (Stanley Foundation 2012).


Mills, Kurt, 2015, International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa – Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute and Palliate (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press)

Stanley Foundation 2012, ICC Prosecutor Elect Talks Court`s Role in R2P, Video, [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 9 January 2017]