Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

unacto1The concept of R2P was developed through the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which was set up by the Canadian Government in September 2000. The Commission was striving to answer Kofi Annan’s call, precipitated by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as well as the horrors of Bosnia and Kosovo: When does the international community intervene for the sake of protecting populations?

The strong Canadian involvement in this norm was continued last month when one of its finest scholars in this area, Ms. Jennifer Welsh, was appointed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to be his special adviser on R2P allowing her to play an integral part in the debate on the UN’s role in maintaining international peace and security.

The concept of Responsibility to Protect sought to change the parameters of the eternal debate surrounding sovereignty and intervention. It was intended to bring power politics out of the equation and insert a human element. They felt it should no longer be about geography or resources, the international communities’ only response to these atrocities should be to feel a mutual responsibility to protect civilians.

The nation state was founded very much on the principle of sovereignty, the right to full control within one’s borders without external interference. Within this right, however, is the inherent duty to protect the population. R2P respects sovereignty up to the point where this obligation is not met. It outlines the cases in which it is imperative to protect civilians from unacceptable abuses of power by national governments. This possible shift in the global power psyche was described by historian Martin Gilbert as “the most significant adjustment to sovereignty in 360 years[1]. The United Nations solidified the concept as a new International Security and Human rights norm at the 2005 World Summit, where the member states agreed upon the scope of R2P, outlining them in in the summit’s outcome document. Included in the scope were the four major atrocity crimes, namely “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

An obligation was placed on the international community “through the United Nations…to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter.” The document goes further, stating that in the event that peaceful means do not protect the population from the national authorities, the member states “are prepared to take collective action…through the Security Council…on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with the relevant regional organizations as appropriate”[2].

The Security Council strongly reaffirmed its support for R2P in 2006 through Resolution 1674 on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

R2PThe incubation period of R2P was a success, the concept was debated and refined over many months and years, support from NGO’s and governments allowed it to quickly emerge as a reputable norm. It did however have its detractors. Its first major outing came in the form of Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 which both invoked R2P as the basis for protecting Libyans from Gaddafi’s attempts to cling onto power. A successful result in terms of lives saved, crippling Gadhafi’s air power, balanced the playing field. In its perceived success though, there was more ammunition for the critics of R2P. French and British Special Forces on the ground, not authorized by the Security Council, left the impression that regime change was the covert reasoning behind the action taken by the west. This fire is further fuelled by the same countries’ inability to act in Syria. These are tough and complex issues which couldn’t possibly be dealt with in this short piece, it does however give us much to think about as well as an idea of the tough brief facing Ms. Welsh in her new position.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Barry Hynes


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