Student Project Aims to Enhance International Human Rights Initiative

May 26, 2009
by Doug Gavel

Two Kennedy School students are seeking to effect the direction of discussion about government apathy in face of preventable atrocities.

Andrew Block MPP 2009 and Claire Applegarth MPP 2009 designed their Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) to investigate the ways in which supporters can use structural and institutional reforms to enhance the effectiveness of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), an initiative launched in 2001 as a promise by the international community to prevent states from using national sovereignty as a way to deny accountability for committing human rights violations.

“Our PAE argues that the tasks of building consensus around RtoP and breaking down the institutional and political barriers to its implementation should not be left solely to the United Nations,” said Applegarth. “National governments themselves should be doing much more to mainstream the concept in their own institutions and policies, which will enhance their individual capacities to respond and likelihood of taking action when faced with RtoP situations, while also feeding back into stronger consensus and a mandate for action at the UN.”

The PAE has been published as a Belfer Center Working Paper, and was also linked to the website of the G20 London Summit that took place in April.

“The response we’ve received has been incredibly positive,” said Block. “We’ve been told that our work stands to have a significant impact on national policy. There hasn’t been much thinking about a long-term strategy for implementing the Responsibility to Protect, and those who have read our report have indicated that our work goes a long way towards filling that gap.”

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center, wrote the preface to the discussion paper, saying that the research “provides a fresh perspective on the principle [of RtoP]” and “makes a valuable contribution to the RtoP discussion.”

The United Nations General Assembly is preparing to debate RtoP in June, and Block says he and Applegarth are “fortunate that we’re able to impact the conversation at such a critical moment.”

Following graduation, Block plans to pursue a position in the foreign policy field within the federal government. Applegarth will work as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton's Global Security team.

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Image of Andrew Block and Claire Applegarth

Andrew Block (L) and Claire Applegarth (R) hope their policy analysis exercise has a significant impact upon public policy.

"National governments themselves should be doing much more to mainstream the concept in their own institutions and policies, which will enhance their individual capacities to respond and likelihood of taking action when faced with RtoP situations, while also feeding back into stronger consensus and a mandate for action at the UN," Applegarth said.