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The Responsibility to Protect—Five Years On

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011

Abstract

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) has become a prominent feature in international debates about preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities. Since its adoption in 2005, it has been discussed in relation to a dozen major crises and been the subject of discussion at the UN Security Council and General Assembly. This article takes stock of the past five years and examines three questions about RtoP: What is its function? Is it a norm, and, if so, what sort? And what contribution has it made to the prevention of atrocities and protection of vulnerable populations? In relation to the first, it argues that RtoP is commonly conceptualized as fulfilling one of two functions (a framework for a policy agenda and a speech-act meant to generate the will to intervene), but that these two functions are incompatible. In relation to the second question, it argues that RtoP is best thought of as two sets of norms relating to the responsibilities of states to their own populations and international responsibilities. The first set are well defined and established, the second though are indeterminate and lack compliance-pull, limiting the extent to which RtoP can serve as a catalyst for action. This, the article argues, is reflected in RtoP's track record thus far. RtoP has failed to generate additional political will in response to atrocity crimes but it has proven useful as both a diplomatic tool and as a policy lens.

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Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2010

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References

1 UN General Assembly (UNGA), “2005 World Summit Outcome,” A/60/L.1, September 15, 2005, paras. 138–40; UN Security Council (UNSC), S/RES/1674 (2006), April 28, 2006; UNSC, S/RES/1894 (2009), November 11, 2009. On the three pillars, see Ban Ki-moon, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Report of the Secretary-General,” A/63/677, January 12, 2009.

2 Ban Ki-moon, “On Responsible Sovereignty: International Cooperation for a Changed World,” Berlin, SG/SM11701, July 15, 2008.

3 UNGA, “The Responsibility to Protect,” A/RES/63/308, October 7, 2009.

4 I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for suggesting this formulation.

5 Gareth Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect: An Idea Whose Time Has Come … and Gone?” International Relations 22, no.3 (2008).

6 Draft Security Council Resolution on the Protection of Civilians, third iteration, December 1, 2005.

7 See UNSC, S/PV.5319, December 9, 2005, pp. 10, 19; and UNSC, S/PV.5319 (Resumption 1), December 9, 2005, pp. 3, 6.

8 Security Council Report, Update Report No. 5, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” June 21, 2006; Update Report No. 1, June 18, 2007; and Update Report No. 1, March 8, 2006.

9 Security Council Report, Update Report No. 1, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” June 18, 2007.

10 Ekkehard Strauss, “A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush—On the Assumed Legal Nature of the Responsibility to Protect,” Global Responsibility to Protect 1, no. 3 (2009), p. 307.

11 High-Level Mission of the UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the High-Level Mission on the Situation of Human Rights in Darfur Pursuant to Human Rights Council Decision S-4/101,” A/HRC/4/80, March 9, 2007; and A/HRC/5/6, June 8, 2007.

12 See, e.g., Ramesh Thakur, “The Model of a Mediocre Secretary-General,” Ottawa Citizen, September 25, 2009; available at www2.canada.com/northshorenews/news/taste/story.html?id=2041865.

13 Joachim Muller and Karl P. Sauvant, “Overview: The United Nations Year 2006/2007: A New Beginning in Difficult Times,” Annual Review of United Nations Affairs 2006/2007 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. xv.

14 Edward C. Luck, “The Responsible Sovereign and the Responsibility to Protect,” Annual Review of United Nations Affairs 2006/2007 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. xxxv.

15 Ban, “On Responsible Sovereignty: International Cooperation for a Changed World.”

16 Ban, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.”

17 International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), “Report on the General Assembly Plenary Debate on the Responsibility to Protect,” September 15, 2009, p. 3.

18 Office of the President of the General Assembly, “Concept Note on Responsibility to Protect Populations from Genocide, War Crimes, Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity,” undated (July 2009).

19 Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Responding to the UN Secretary-General's Report,” June 2009, p. 1.

20 See, e.g., statement by Maged A. Abdelaziz, Permanent Representative of Egypt, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, on Agenda Item 44 and 107.

21 UNGA, “The Responsibility to Protect,” A/RES/63/308, October 7, 2009.

22 This analysis is based on Global Centre, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect,” pp. 6–7; and Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Asia-Pacific in the 2009 General Assembly Dialogue,” October 2009, pp. 12–17.

23 International Crisis Group, “Russia vs. Georgia: The Fallout,” Europe Report no. 195, August 22, 2008, esp. pp. 2–3.

24 Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, interview with the BBC, Moscow, August 9, 2008.

25 UNGA, “Delegates Weigh Legal Merits of Responsibility to Protect,” GA/10850, July 28, 2009, p. 14.

26 Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, “R2P: A New and Unfinished Agenda,” Global Responsibility to Protect 1, no. 1 (2009), p. 59; Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, “The Georgia-Russia Crisis and the Responsibility to Protect: Background Note,” August 19, 2008; and Gareth Evans, “Russia, Georgia, and the Responsibility to Protect,” Amsterdam Law Forum 1, no. 2 (2009).

27 “Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia,” September 2009.

28 Jurgen Haacke, “Myanmar, the Responsibility to Protect and the Need for Practical Assistance,” Global Responsibility to Protect 1, no. 2 (2009), p. 156.

29 “World Fears for Plight of Myanmar Cyclone Victims,” Reuters, May 13, 2008.

30 Edward Luck, Briefing on “International Disaster Assistance: Policy Options,” to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, June 17, 2008; and Julian Borger and Ian MacKinnon, “Bypass Junta's Permission for Aid, US and France Urge,” Guardian, May 9, 2008, p. 20.

31 Borger and MacKinnon, “Bypass Junta's Permission.”

32 Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect”; and Haacke, “Myanmar.”

33 Andrew Selth, “Even Paranoids Have Enemies: Cyclone Nargis and Myanmar's Fears of Invasion,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 30, no. 3 (2008), pp. 379–402.

34 See, e.g., Cristina Badescu and Linnea Bergholm, “Responsibility to Protect and the Conflict in Darfur: The Big Let-Down,” Security Dialogue 40, no. 3 (2009), pp. 287–309.

35 Discussed in detail in Alex J. Bellamy and Paul D. Williams, “The Responsibility to Protect and the Crisis in Darfur,” Security Dialogue 36, no. 1 (2005), pp. 27–47.

36 See, e.g., Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect,” p. 106; Desmond Tutu, “Taking the Responsibility to Protect,” New York Times, November 9, 2008, available at http:\\www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/opinion/19iht-edtutu.1.10186157.html?scp=1&sq=Taking the responsibility to protect&st=cse; and Donald Steinberg, “Responsibility to Protect: Coming of Age?” Global Responsibility to Protect 1, no. 4 (2009), pp. 432–41.

37 Cited in Roger Cohen, “How Kofi Annan Rescued Kenya,” New York Review of Books 55, no. 13, August 14, 2008.

38 Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Kenya, New York, January 2, 2008.

39 Ban Ki-moon, Address to the Summit of the African Union, Addis Ababa, January 31, 2008.

40 UNSC, “Statement by the President of the Security Council,” S/PRST/2008/4, February 6, 2008.

41 Security Council Report, “Kenya update report,” March 2008.

42 Sean Harder, “How They Stopped the Killing,” Stanley Foundation, June 2009. http:\\www.stanleyfoundation.org/articles.cfm?id=596, accessed April 15, 2010.

43 Keynote Address by Jean Ping, Chairperson of the AU Commission, at the Roundtable High-Level Meeting of Experts on “The Responsibility to Protect in Africa,” Addis Ababa, October 23, 2008.

44 Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have found that war crimes have been committed against the civilian population, including by Ethiopia.

45 See “Somalia Conflict Kills More than 2, 100 This Year,” Reuters, June 26, 2008.

46 Matthew Russell Lee, “Re-Branding Responsibility to Protect, Gareth Evans Says Somalia's Not Covered,” Inner City Press, September 17, 2009; available at http:\\www.innercitypress.com/r2p1evans091708.html (accessed February 19, 2010); and Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect,” p. 76.

47 Colum Lynch, “U.S. Peacekeeping Plan for Somalia Criticized,” Washington Post, November 29, 2006.

48 See Security Council Report, “Update on Somalia,” March–November 2006.

49 Security Council Report, “Somalia Update Report,” November 2008.

50 See, e.g., Barbara Harff, “No Lessons Learnt from the Holocaust? Assessing Risks of Genocide and Political Mass Murder Since 1955,” American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003); and Victoria K. Holt and Glyn Taylor, Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations: Successes, Setbacks and Remaining Challenges (study commissioned by the UN DPKO, November 2009).

51 Gareth Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect in International Affairs: Where to From Here?” (keynote lecture at the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, November 27, 2009).

52 Gareth Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect: An Idea Whose Time Has Come … and Gone?”, pp. 294–95.

53 See, e.g., Harff, “No Lessons Learnt?”; and John Heidenrich, How to Prevent Genocide: An Assessment with Policy Recommendations (London: Greenwood, 2001).

54 See Marc Saxer, “The Politics of Responsibility to Protect,” FES Briefing Paper No. 2, Berlin, April 2008, p. 4.

55 Eli Stamnes, “‘Speaking R2P’ and the Prevention of Mass Atrocities,” Global Responsibility to Protect 1, no. 1 (2009), p. 77. See J. L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words, 2nd ed. (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1975).

56 Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect,” International Relations, p. 294.

57 Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change,” International Organization 52, no. 4 (1998), p. 891.

58 See, e.g., Evans, “The Responsibility to Protect,” p. 55; and Teresa Chataway, “Towards Normative Consensus on Responsibility to Protect,” Griffith Law Review 16, no. 1 (2007).

59 Ban, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect,” para. 13.

60 Hugo Slim, Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

61 Thomas Franck, The Power of Legitimacy Among Nations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 49.

62 International Court of Justice, “The Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia and Montenegro),” judgment February 26, 2007, paras. 428–38.

63 ILC, Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, 2001; available at untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/commentaries/9_6_2001.pdf; and ILC, “Third Report on Responsibility of International Organizations by Mr. Giorgio Gaja, Special Rapporteur,” A/CN.4/553, para. 10.

64 “Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations During the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda,” S/1999/1257, December 16, 1999.

65 See Louise Arbour, “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice,” Review of International Studies 34, no. 3 (2008), pp. 445–58.

66 See, e.g., Jose E. Alvarez, “The Schizophrenias of R2P” (Panel Presentation at the 2007 Hague Joint Conference on Contemporary Issues of International Law: Criminal Jurisdiction 100 Years After the 1907 Hague Peace Conference, The Hague, The Netherlands, June 30, 2007), p. 12.

67 This idea, and way of formulating it, is borrowed from Nicholas J. Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in World Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). It is based on Quentin Skinner, “Analysis of Political Thought and Action,” in James Tully, ed., Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics (Cambridge: Polity, 1988), p. 117.

68 Franck, Power of Legitimacy, p. 52.

69 Ibid., pp. 52–54.

70 Skinner, “Analysis of Political Thought and Action,” p. 117.

71 Alan J. Kuperman, Review of Gareth Evans, Responsibility to Protect, Political Science Quarterly, vol. 124, no. 3 (Fall 2009), p. 591.

72 Alex de Waal, “Darfur and the Failure of the Responsibility to Protect,” International Affairs 83, no. 6 (2007), pp. 1039–54.

73 See, e.g., David Mepham, Darfur: The Responsibility to Protect (London: Institute for Public Policy Research, 2006); Badescu and Bergholm, “Responsibility to Protect”; and Lee Feinstein, Darfur and Beyond (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2007).

75 Documented in Alex J. Bellamy, Massacres and Morality: Atrocities in an Age of Non-Combatant Immunity (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming), app. 1.

76 Ekaterina Stepanova, “Trends in Armed Conflicts: One-Sided Violence Against Civilians,” in SIPRI Yearbook 2009 (Oxford: Oxford University Press/SIPRI, 2009), pp. 39–68.

78 Alex J. Bellamy and Paul D. Williams, “The West and Contemporary Peace Operations,” Journal of Peace Research 46, no. 1 (2009), pp. 39–57; and Brian Barbour and Brian Gorlick, “Embracing the Responsibility to Protect: A Repertoire of Measures Including Asylum for Potential Victims,” International Journal of Refugee Law 20, no. 4 (2008), pp. 533–66.

79 Jonathan Symons, International Legitimacy: Contesting the Domestic Analogy (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 2007), p. 121. The mimicry label is taken from Alistair Iain Johnston, Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980–2000 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

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