Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
In this article, we shall discuss the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) under the United Nations. We shall examine the history behind the concept, as well as conditions in which there is an expectation for international humanitarian intervention.
Introduction to the Responsibility to Protect
The responsibility to protect is understood as the ability of the international community members to intervene in a country if the citizens’ rights violations are not being protected, and the state is either committing the action, or they are not providing the protections that are expected and granted to citizens. The responsibility to protect has three key elements and responsibilities, which are:
The responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes ofinternal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk.
The responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention.
The responsibility to rebuild: to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert (ICISS, 2001: XI).
History of the Responsibility to Protect
In order to understand the history of the responsibility to protect, it is important to understand the context of this discussion. The issue of international humanitarian intervention was highly debated well before the implemention of R2P by the United Nations (in 2005). For example, there were calls for the United Nations to intervene in Bosnia as early as 1992 when the conflict broke out in Serbia, and when there were reports of violence committed by the military against Bosnians. In this case, many questioned why countries such as the United States took so long to intervene in the country, arguably not making a serious commitment until 1995 (Daalder, 1998). Even with the involvement of the United Nations, there were also criticisms about how they handled their peacekeeping duties, which one of the most horrific actions during that time–the killings in Srebrenica, happening in part because of the United Nations peacekeepers unable to effectively protect the “safe zone.” In addition to the timing and overalls actions of the United Nations in Bosnia, one of the most critical actions (or inactions) related to the United Nations as it pertains to human rights interventions was that of Rwanda in 1994. During the summer of 1994, the Hutu government began committing genocide against the Tutsis. The United Nations was seen as failing to prevent genocide from taking place in the country. In fact, many were critical of the United Nations for removing peacekeepers from the country at a time when genocide was taking place. In fact, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said as much in 2014, stating that the United Nations should have kept in peacekeepers at the time that was essential, and not remove them.
One of the most debated cases in recent years with regards to the issue of justified military intervention for the protection of the lives of citizens was the situation in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. The Serbian government began carrying out ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo, which led states in the United Nations to advocate a military intervention in Serbia. However, with Russia, a strong ally to Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, on the Security Council, they had the ability to veto any military action. Thus, unable to carry out a military intervention with United Nations Security Council approval, countries such as the United States bypassed the UN and used international organizations such as NATO for the intervention. Overall, it has been argued that
“NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999 brought the controversy to its most intense head. Security Council members were divided; the legal justification for military action without new Security Council authority was asserted but largely unargued; the moral or humanitarian justification for the action, which on the face of it was much stronger, was clouded by allegations that the intervention generated more carnage than it averted; and there were many criticisms of the way in which the NATO allies conducted the operation” (ICISS, 2001: VII).
Because of the points of disagreement among members of the United Nations Security Council with regards to intervention in Kosovo, then Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan called for establishing a clear set of conditions that would allow the United Nations to intervene on matters of protecting civilians from violence committed by the state. In fact, in regards to the discussions about whether intervention was justified and expected in prior cases such as Rwanda and Bosnia, Annan was quoted as asking:
“…if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?” (ICISS, 2001).
There are three key points to the responsibility to protect. They are that:
- The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
- The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
- The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The responsibility to protect challenges that long-established norm that states have ultimate sovereignty, and that this sovereignty should be respected within the international system. Human rights activists accurately have pointed out that in numerous cases, the state has used the shield of sovereignty to carry out gross human rights violations against its own citizens. However, when the state fails to protect their citizens, states through the United Nations declared that the international organization justifies intervention to protect citizens.
When is it justified to Intervene?
The question that many (and state leaders included during the formation of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine) have asked is “When it is justified to intervene in a country to protect citizens? This has been one of the most debated questions as it pertains to issues of international human rights interventions. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, in their 2001 work on the issue of responsibility to protect, wrote that there exists both a specific threshold of violations for intervention, as well as a set of precautionary principles that must be met by those who are looking to intervene. With regards to what sort of actions justify international intervention, they state that for intervention to be justified, there should be:
- large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or
- large scale ‘ethnic cleansing’, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape. (XII).
Not only should there be a specific threshold of actions committed, but actors are expected to follow these principles, which are below:
- Right intention: The primary purpose of the intervention, whatever other motives intervening states may have, must be to halt or avert human suffering. Right intention is better assured with multilateral operations, clearly supported by regional opinion and the victims concerned.
- Last resort: Military intervention can only be justified when every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis has been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures would not have succeeded.
- Proportional means: The scale, duration and intensity of the planned military intervention should be the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective.
- Reasonable prospects: There must be a reasonable chance of success in halting or averting the suffering which has justified the intervention, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction (ICISS, 2001).