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Call for papers: R2P and Atrocity Prevention at the United Nations: The Role of Small States

Special Issue, The Nordic Journal of Human Rights

This year it is 17 years ago UN member states unanimously adopted the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm as part of the UN’s World Summit Outcome Document. R2P was meant to catalyze national and international action to prevent atrocities as witnessed in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s. The UN Secretary-General (UNSG) has issued yearly reports on R2P since 2009 and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has organized regular debates. At the same time, two special advisers to the UNSG on genocide and on R2P have worked on prevention and implementation. Despite all this, R2P seems to have lost some of its universal appeal – in part due to the controversies surrounding the international R2P intervention in Libya in 2011 and in part because some governments are not able or willing to implement the promise R2P makes.

In the literature and among civil society, much focus is placed on the role of the big nations and especially that of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and their veto power. This is for example true for works analyzing the Libya intervention as well as those examining the failure of atrocity prevention in Syria and Myanmar. This special issue will take a different approach and look at small states and their agency. This corresponds with a renewed interest in the role of the elected ten members, the E10, in the UN Security Council and the increasing prominence of the UN Human Rights Council, where there exists no right to veto.

Among small states and E10, the Nordic countries are generally among the key supporters of human rights and prevention efforts at the UN. Denmark is a key proponent of the R2P norm, both in New York and globally. Norway is a champion of the “protection of civilians” agenda and a co-lead in the process to strengthen the preventative role of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Sweden chose the strengthening of conflict prevention to be one of its key priorities during its term on the UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2017-18. With regard to R2P, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have also all joined the informal UN-based “Group of Friends of R2P” both in Geneva and New York and Denmark was its co-chair in New York for three years.

That said, there are, important differences in how the Nordic countries approach the field of atrocity prevention at the UN and through their memberships in key organs such as the UNSC or UNHRC. The same applies, naturally, to other small states from other regions. In this call, we ask for research papers that reflect on the roles of small states such as the Nordics in atrocity prevention at the UN, as well as challenges linked to the R2P norm itself in regard to the work of UN organs. One or more of the following questions could guide the papers:

  • Is the political sensitivity around R2P an insurmountable obstacle to its promotion at the UNSC, the UNGA and the UNHRC? Does this only apply to using explicit R2P language or also to pushing R2P-inspired discussions and measures?
  • Given the institutional set-up and power dynamics of the UNSC, are there ways and examples to advance atrocity prevention that are more realistic? Do UNGA and UNHRC provide for meaningful and feasible alternatives and has this materialized in practice?
  • What role can small states play as elected members in the area of R2P and atrocity prevention in the UNSC or the UNHRC?
  • Looking at the practice of UN organs, how do norms, aims and outcomes based on the R2P framework contrast with other human rights and conflict-related agendas, such as human security, conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy and protection of civilians?

We invite contributions reflecting a variety of methodological and academic approaches. All proposals should focus on the role of one or more small states regarding atrocity prevention at the UN.

The Process

If you are interested to contribute, please contact the co-editors of the special issue by writing to Ellen E. Stensrud ( or Martin Mennecke ( An abstract (max. 300 words) should be submitted to the co-editors by 1 May 2022. Based on this abstract we will decide on your contribution to the special issue and explore your potential participation in a research workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark (30-31 May 2022).

Papers of between 7,000-10,000 words (including footnotes) are due by 15 September 2022 for review by the co-editors of the special issue and double-blind peer review. The special issue is scheduled to be published in 2023.

A Nordic Atrocity Prevention Research Project

This call is part of a project on Nordic approaches to atrocity prevention at the United Nations, co-organized by Martin Mennecke (University of Southern Denmark), Ellen E. Stensrud (The Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies) and Angela Muvumba Sellström (The Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala). We have received funding from the Nordic research councils in the humanities and social sciences (NOS-HS) to conduct workshops on Nordic approaches to R2P and atrocity prevention. We seek to identify characteristic features and contribute to enhanced policies and practice, both in the individual countries and, if possible, as part of a common Nordic approach. We hope to identify key topics for further research collaboration.

The Journal Hosting the Special Issue

The Nordic Journal of Human Rights (NJHR) is one of Scandinavia’s leading journals in the field, and provides a forum for academic critique and analysis pertaining to human rights. The NJHR reflects current developments and seeks to promote the development of new perspectives on the theory and practice of human rights. The NJHR is a multi-disciplinary journal, directed towards academics, policy makers and practitioners in the field of human rights. The NJHR is a Green Open Access Journal and Level 2-rated in the Norwegian “UHR” system for scientific publications and indexed and covered in the Emerging Sources Citation Index.

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