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 is 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 ‘R2P 3 ’ 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 R2P 3 relations. For example, in his discussion of the crisis in Uganda (Chapter 4), Mills analyses all the features of the R2P 3 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 R2P 3 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 R2P 3 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 R2P 3 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 R2P 3 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 coflict, 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. This 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 conflict. 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 the 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. The 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. This case also showed the challenges of the peace versus justice debate in an ongoing conflict, when attempts at prosecution may prolong conflict while at the same time local peace initiatives may be inadequate for victims who do want prosecutions. This 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 conflict 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 conflict 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 conflict across other borders rather than ending atrocity. Unsupported humanitarians are left to garner what access they can, which often 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. The 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. This 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 R2P3 so 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 R2P3 and 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 better 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]

The question that the book strives to answer is a complex one: “How have, can, and should mass atrocities be addressed?” (p.1). Hence, the book is simultaneously historical-empirical, analysing four interrelated cases of mass atrocities in Africa, exploratory, or analytical, seeking to determine the horizon of possible and feasible international responses, and normative, seeking to establish not only that the international community should do something but also what responses are desirable and when. As such, it is an important contribution to both the study of conflict in Africa and of global response strategies, such as responsibility to protect (R2P).

The cases analysed in the volume are Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Darfur. There are apt reasons for selecting these particular cases. First of all, there are underlying causes for the conflicts in the areas under analysis: not only are they geographically linked but the factors creating instability in one place have directly or indirectly influenced atrocities elsewhere. Secondly, they are similar in terms of international responses or, to be more precise, the lack of an effective international solution. This international reaction manifested itself, and was deficient in different ways in all particular cases: the lack of willingness to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and thus act decisively in Rwanda, inability to adapt to the complexity of the situation in DRC, potential complications of pressing for international criminal justice in an ongoing conflict (Uganda), and the general unwillingness of the international community to confront national authorities (Darfur). They also show that some response strategies, like peace and justice, are not always commensurable (although the author also sets out in a quest for conditions when the two are not mutually exclusive, thus moving beyond the already well-trodden peace vs justice debate). And also the analysis reveals how the current multifaceted nature of response to mass atrocities can be counter-productive: a complex network of actors, which is part both of the solution and of the problem. Revealing this complicated network of interests, values, and actors is a significant achievement of the book.

The author also aims to expand the concept of R2P by elaborating on the “P” part of it: in this book, it stands for not only “protect” but also “prosecute” and “palliate” (hence the book’s subtitle), rewriting the standard formula from R2P to R2P3. Of course, neither of the additional Ps is completely new: all of them were at least implicit already in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document that established R2P in the first place. However, Mills is successful in outlining the additions, demonstrating their differences and similarities, practical manifestations (or failures to manifest themselves) as well as shortcomings and arguing for their indivisibility. But at the same time, the book also carries a stark warning about acts of political naming as well as inclusiveness and exclusiveness of speech: as Rwanda and Darfur demonstrate, the amount of verbal acrobatics involved in framing a situation, particularly in order to avoid international involvement, is not insignificant. However, this book also offers a solution, at least implicitly, in its P3 strategy: linking corresponding terms in such a way that one is inseparable from the other. Far from being a dilution and offering an option to escape without uttering high-valence keywords, such expansion of core concepts also offers greater clarity and transparency as to what particular responsibilities actually involves. Being mindful of particular aspects and not just of the bulk term also allows for more nuanced approach and that also forms an important part of the book’s argument.

Of course, for R2P3 to work there needs to be a substantial revaluation of how sovereignty and authority play out in today’s world. But most importantly, there has to be sufficient will, and the author has to be credited for making that one of the core imperatives. Partly due to the four case studies, his assessment of the status quo and future perspectives of R2P3 is realistic and does not transgress into either unsubstantiated utopianism or unproductive moralisation. That, as well, can be considered a major positive aspect of the book.

In short, International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa is a book that delivers one of the most sustained, realistic, and convincing accounts of the theory and practice of international responsibilities in face of violent crises. Moreover, being accessibly written, it is likely to be of use to both professionals and those who are only developing an interest in the issue.

—Ignas Kalpokas (Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania),

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 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 Protect and similar standards for protecting civilians and responding to “complex humanitarian emergencies.” For that deeper analysis it is helpful to turn to an interview that President Barack Obama gave to a journalist for the Atlantic magazine.(1)  

That interview reveals fairly clearly that while we now have international human rights and humanitarian norms of supposedly universal validity, key decisions are still made by national officials whose views—even when relatively progressive—prioritize narrower national interests. On the basis of his extended discussions with the president, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg concluded that “Obama generally does not believe a president should place American soldiers at great risk in order to prevent humanitarian disasters, unless those disasters pose a direct security threat to the United States.” In general, this means that American lives and security considerations come first, and actions protecting others may or may not be implemented depending on calculations of cost broadly conceived. 

Such an approach helps explain why the United States has not intervened directly in the internationalized Syrian civil war, despite the evidence that atrocities are occurring: the situation is not seen as a security threat and the risks of deep involvement are seen as very high. President Obama seemed to believe that problems in Syria and the rest of the Middle East had to be sorted out by regional actors, and that this would take generations. His approach explains why, on the other hand, US forces rescued many Iraqi Yazidis imperiled by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL or DESH): it seemed doable at a low cost. (The United States is of course bombing ISIS, in part because the group has killed Americans and has an international agenda threatening to all Western states.) Obama is quoted as saying: 

In order to advance both our security interests and those ideals and values that we care about, we’ve got to be hardheaded at the same time as we’re bighearted, and pick and choose our spots, and recognize that there are going to be times where the best that we can do is to shine a spotlight on something that’s terrible, but not believe that we can automatically solve it. There are going to be times where our security interests conflict with our concerns about human rights. There are going to be times where we can do something about innocent people being killed, but there are going to be times where we can’t. 

Since “sovereign” states control UN security operations, fund most aid agencies, and decide whether to cooperate with the ICC, state views determine most responses to atrocities. As President Obama candidly explained, key states may do so robustly, half-heartedly, or not at all, depending on shifting judgments. As Mills documents, genocide in Rwanda was ignored; attacks on civilians in the DRC might trigger weak peacekeeping or more robust, if limited enforcement; and attempts to prosecute this or that alleged war criminal are sometimes supported and sometimes not. 

States might say “never again.” Sometimes they have meant it and sometimes they have not, depending on their construction of the national interest and anticipated cost. Plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose. David P. Forsythe, University of Nebraska–Lincoln (Emeritus) doi:10.1093/hgs/dcx003


1. Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” April 2016, / magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/ (accessed February 1, 2017). 

Since the early 1990s, international interventions have grown in size and complexity. Kurt Mills, a Senior Lecturer in International Human Rights at the University of Glasgow and the Director of the Glasgow Human Rights Network, brings his wide experience to bear in exploring this complexity, paying particular attention to international efforts to respond to mass atrocities. Mills’ book International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa details the complicated, and contradictory, nature of international responses to mass atrocities and explores the fine line that the international community must walk when fulfilling its responsibility to protect. 

The core concern of this book is to answer the question: How have and should mass atrocities be addressed? The book does a good job of addressing the former, specifically; it explains the successes and failures of responses to past or ongoing mass atrocities and the challenges that arose in each instance. In doing so, this book provides interesting insights into the crucible in which the concepts of protection of civilians and responsibility to protect were forged. However, when addressing how the international community should respond to mass atrocities, the author provides few answers. 

To craft his argument Mills assesses four case studies (Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Sudan) using a matrix of three main types of international responses: protection, prosecution and palliation, which he calls R2P3. We start with the belated and incomplete response to the Rwandan genocide as the book discusses the downside of humanitarian interventions. Mills makes a strong argument that the botched international response to Rwanda’s genocide sets the stage for the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, covered in his next chapter. Here, Mills’ case study details the difficult dynamics between civilian and military actors striving to find a coherent approach to protection and where the international community begins to assess the emerging idea of protection of civilians. This case highlights the disconnect between the normative promise of protection with realities on the ground. The Ugandan Case illuminated the important, and problematic, role of the fledgling International Criminal Court in responding to atrocities. Finally, the crisis in Darfur is cast as the first real test of the nascent responsibility to protect and illustrates the challenges of sovereignty as an obstacle to preventing mass atrocities and the international community’s struggle to articulate what taking responsibility would actually look like. 

Mills’ R2P3 typology allows the reader to see each case from three interacting, and often conflicting, perspectives: the military perspective of peace operations (protection), legal perspective of the International Criminal Court (prosecution) and the humanitarian perspective (palliation). This approach provides a more holistic view of each intervention than those available from works focusing on just one or even two of these aspects. These multiple perspectives also provide the two major takeaways from the book. First, even taken individually, there are moral ambiguities around any type of intervention. Second, when international interventions include two or more types of intervention there are political, practical, and normative trade offs that must occur; trade offs that might ultimately make the conflict last longer than if there had been no intervention at all. 

Mills argues that moral ambiguities exist whenever the international community applies any one of the tools of his R2P3 framework. In almost every case he is successful in showing how, on one hand, each intervention provides aid in ways specific to the organization’s key goals, i.e. providing shelter, disarming militants, etc. On the other hand, interventions also make atrocity situations worse, for example, the shelter provided by humanitarians also provides lodging for rebels. These dilemmas are well demonstrated in the case studies provided in the book. In Rwanda (Chapter 2) humanitarian efforts to help those fleeing the genocide also allowed the génocidaires time to establish a firm grip on power in refugee camps, giving them a base for future attacks. In Uganda (Chapter 4) the Ugandan government used the ICC to legitimize military action against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) while at the same time downplaying its own culpability for the atrocities. Though the moral ambiguities of international interventions are well known to those who study them, Mills adds value by placing three different types of interventions side by side to show that the ambiguities inherent in an intervention are an issue, not just for the particular type of intervention, but for all types of interventions attempting to address the mass atrocity. 

Mills’ main contribution comes when he connects the different types of interventions to each other. As Mills shows, when humanitarian, military and legal responses are combined, there are large political, practical and normative trade offs that must occur. At the core of this issue is the fact that each type of intervention has its own goals, Mills demonstrates that these end goals, while they overlap, may not align. In fact, when they are combined they may actually extend or foster conflict. Though these trade offs occur in every case study Mills provides, the intervention in Darfur (Chapter 5) is particularly telling. In Darfur, every aspect of R2P3 was in play to disastrous effect. The initial humanitarian intervention allowed the international community to put off deploying a military force to provide protection to civilians in conflict. When a force was deployed, it slowed the rate of killing but was unable to stop it. However, when the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Bashir, there was a backlash against both humanitarian and peacekeeping interventions, making their work that much harder. Each type of intervention at best hindered, and at worst endangered, the work of other actors. Beyond this, Mills argues that not only must interveners negotiate amongst themselves, but the very presence of one type of intervention may facilitate or prevent the application of another type of intervention. For example, the humanitarian interventions in Uganda and Darfur allowed the international community to initially avoid deploying forces to protect civilians addressing difficult political and security issues. 

This book does a good job of problematizing the current tools in the human rights and humanitarian toolbox when it comes to responding to atrocities. It demonstrates not just how these tools are underused, but also that even when they are used they may undermine each other. Mills does a good job of pointing out where additional thought is needed in how the international community coordinates and configures responses to mass atrocities. However, there are two areas where this book falls short of its potential. 

First, Mills’ R2P3 framework is based upon an uneven interpretation of the original tenets of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The concept of the responsibility to protect, as enshrined in the 2005 UN Summit Outcome document, has three distinct pillars arranged in order of preference. The first pillar places responsibility for protection of a population with each individual state, the second calls for the international community to assist the state in providing that protection and the third, the first two having failed, states that the international community has a responsibility to take collective action to protect populations at risk. Collective action covers the gamut from dialogue to sanctions to military interventions. This conception of R2P clearly shows that military intervention is the last resort when addressing mass atrocities. However, in the R2P3 framework promoted by Mills in this book, protection is overwhelmingly understood as military intervention. The first two pillars of R2P and many of the tools provided in pillar three are given only cursory consideration. This means that the entire spectrum of protection from targeted development to capacity building to sanctions is not considered. This produces a very lopsided and, arguably incorrect, conception of what protection means. There continues to be a significant amount of debate at the United Nations as to the meaning and use of the responsibility to protect. However, one of the few things that is generally agreed on is that the responsibility for protection first and foremost lies with the state and any outside efforts, particularly those that involve interventions, are a distant last. 

Second, Mills’ final chapter poses and attempts to answer three overarching questions that arise at the intersections of protection, prevention and palliation. One, do labels such as war crimes and genocide matter? Second, have international norms around human rights outstripped our ability to implement them and should states recognize limits to their responsibilities? And third, what is the cause for failed or delayed international responses to atrocity crimes? Is it the international bureaucracy or lack of political will? While these are important questions that deserve answers, they are not particularly new. Here, Mills misses an opportunity to draw on the insights provided by his R2P3 framework to help answer these old questions or to pose new ones based on the dilemmas unearthed by this more holistic assessment on international responses to mass atrocities. The chapter closes with the unsurprising conclusion that, while there have been significant developments in the way the international community conceives of human rights and humanitarian norms, how they respond to violations of these norms, either with efforts to protect civilians, prosecute the worst offenders or relieve the suffering of those most effected, still lags far behind the ideal. 

This book is accessible for a lay audience. Mills takes pains to provide definitions and the history of key elements in the book such as the evolution of humanitarian intervention, the ICC and the Responsibility to Protect. He also provides an adequate, if somewhat simplified, background on each of the case studies. It would also be of interest to those interested in moral and ethical issues in humanitarian intervention and the evolution and impact of the ICC. 

—Sharon Zimmerman, “Book Review: International Responses to Mass Atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to Protect, Prosecute, and Palliate” Genocide Studies and Prevention 11, 1 (2017): 104-106.