'Responsibility to Protect' was supposed to prevent a repetition of the horrors of
At the turn of the century there was a lack of international consensus about how to respond to genocide and other mass atrocity crimes, which had long led either to indefensible inaction or controversial military action taken without
The 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) was an idea born in 2001. The intention was to recast the language and substance of the debate: to change prevailing mind sets, so the reaction to these catastrophic human rights violations taking place behind sovereign state walls would be that they are everyone's business. The emphasis was on prevention rather than reaction, and on coercive military action as a last resort, not a first. After some diplomatic arm-wrestling, the concept was endorsed unanimously by the
But wasn't this just old 'humanitarian intervention' in a new guise?
Absolutely not! R2P is primarily about prevention, whereas humanitarian intervention is only about reaction.
R2P is about a continuum of responses by a whole range of actors, not just those able and willing to apply military force. R2P commits the different actors to three distinct 'pillars' of responsibility. The primary responsibility is for the sovereign state not to perpetrate or allow atrocity crimes on its territory. The second pillar is the responsibility of others in the international community to assist states in discharging that primary responsibility. The third pillar is the responsibility of the wider international community -- if prevention fails, and a state is manifestly failing to protect its own people -- to provide that protection by every means prescribed by the UN Charter.
Fine words, but what has it meant in practice?
From 2005 until March last year, steady progress was made -- conceptually, in refining the scope of the new norm; institutionally, in building support mechanisms within governments and intergovernmental organizations; and politically, in consolidating UN member support and isolating the spoilers trying to undermine it.
As new atrocity crises arose, R2P increasingly became the reference point. It was, for example, the basis for
Why did that consensus so quickly evaporate? If
From the high point of that agreement there has been a rapid descent, with the
Part of the reason is a very different geopolitical environment: complex internal sectarian divisions with potentially explosive regional implications; anxiety about the democratic credentials of many of those in opposition; no
But there's more to it than that. Consensus has collapsed amid recrimination about how the
So who was right?
The BRICS complaints were not about the initial military response, but what came shortly after, when it became clear that the US,
If one side was taken in a civil war, it was because one-sided regime killing sometimes
leads -- as now in
Are you convinced?
These arguments all have force, but the US,
Is there any way to rescue consensus?
There is a way forward, and it has been offered by
The criteria on the table include:
Such criteria were proposed a decade ago by my own
I don't accept that. Even at the height of the concern about perceived over-reach in the implementation of the Libyan mandate, there was still overwhelming support evident for the R2P norm, in all its dimensions, in the
It's true that there is a long way to go to re-establish consensus at the sharp end of the R2P response continuum: the hard cases where tough measures have to be considered. The initial response of the US,
So what hope for
It's too late now for such renewed consensus to help much now in
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