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RtoP Alive and Well after Libya


With the exception of Raphael Lemkin's efforts on behalf of the 1948 Genocide Convention, no idea has moved faster in the international normative arena than “the responsibility to protect” (RtoP), which was formulated in 2001 by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). Friends and foes have pointed to the commission's conceptual contribution to reframing sovereignty as contingent rather than absolute, and to establishing a framework for forestalling or stopping mass atrocities via a three-pronged responsibility—to prevent, to react, and to rebuild. But until the international military action against Libya in March 2011, the sharp end of the RtoP stick—the use of military force—had been replaced by evasiveness and skittishness from diplomats, scholars, and policy analysts.

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1 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001). See also Weiss Thomas G. and Hubert Don, The Responsibility to Protect: Research, Bibliography, Background (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001).

2 See Barnett Michael and Weiss Thomas G., Humanitarianism Contested: Where Angels Fear to Tread (London: Routledge, 2011).

3 See Kuperman Alan J., “Mitigating the Moral Hazard of Humanitarian Intervention: Lessons from Economics,” Global Governance 14, no. 2 (2008), pp. 219–40;Kuperman Alan J., “The Moral Hazard of Humanitarian Intervention: Lessons from the Balkans,” International Studies Quarterly 52 (2008), pp. 4980; and Kuperman Alan J., “Darfur: Strategic Victimhood Strikes Again?Genocide Studies and Prevention 4, no. 3 (2009), pp. 281303.

4 The author's version is Weiss Thomas G., Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

5 Ban Ki-moon, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Report from the Secretary-General,” UN document A/63/677, January 12, 2009.

6 Ban Ki-moon, “Early Warning, Assessment and the Responsibility to Protect: Report of the Secretary-General,” UN document A/64/864, July 14, 2010.

7 Bellamy Alex J., “The Responsibility to Protect—Five Years On,” Ethics & International Affairs 24, no. 2 (2010), p. 166.

8 I. William Zartman, “Preventing Identity Conflicts Leading to Genocide and Mass Killings,” International Peace Institute, 2010, p. 4.

9 Pattison James, Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: Who Should Intervene? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 250, emphasis in original.

10 Akonor Kwame, “Assessing the African Union's Right of Humanitarian Intervention,Criminal Justice Ethics 29, no. 2 (2010), pp. 157–73.

11 Chesterman Simon, “Hard Cases Make Bad Law: Law, Ethics, and Politics in Humanitarian Intervention,” in Lang Anthony F. Jr., ed., Just Intervention (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003), p. 54.

12 Welsh Jennifer, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Where Expectations Meet Reality,Ethics & International Affairs 24, no. 4 (2010), p. 428.

13 Chopra Jarat and Weiss Thomas G., “Sovereignty Is No Longer Sacrosanct: Codifying Humanitarian Intervention,” Ethics & International Affairs 6 (1992), pp. 95117.

14 See Thomas G. Weiss, “Politics, the UN, and Halting Mass Atrocities,” in Adam and Ernesto Verdeja, eds., The International Politics of Genocide (Boulder, Co.: Lynne Rienner, forthcoming).

15 Collinson Sarah et al. , Realising Protection: The Uncertain Benefits of Civilian, Refugee and IDP Status (London: Overseas Development Institute, 2009), HPG Report 28, p. 3.

16 Bass Gary J., Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (New York: Knopf, 2008), p. 382.

17 Mani Rama and Weiss Thomas G., eds., The Responsibility to Protect: Cultural Perspectives in the Global South (London: Routledge, 2011).

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Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
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