Human Rights and International Law (18): Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

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governance / human rights and international law / intervention / law / war

The “Responsibility to Protect“, or R2P in U.N.-speak, is a humanitarian principle that aims to stop mass murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It refers initially to the responsibility of states to their own citizens, but in case states can’t or won’t protect their own citizens, other states can step in, respecting the Security Council procedures. However, this is a last resort, especially if the intervention is of a military nature.

The concept is closely linked to, if not indistinguishable from, humanitarian intervention. Often it’s also called the principle of non-indifference, a sarcastic pun on the principle of non-intervention. Some for whom national sovereignty and non-intervention is still the main and overriding rule in international affairs, see R2P as an excuse for Western interference. Noam Chomsky is a notable if unsurprising example. You can read his arguments here. He is, not for the first time unfortunately, joined by a number of governments that risk being a future target.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

(source, art by Robert Shetterly)

However, most in the West aren’t jumping the queue to enter into a legal obligation that can force them to undertake expensive and risky interventions in the name of humanity. The fact that these interventions aren’t only expensive and risky but often also without collateral benefits, doesn’t help either. R2P is not yet a legal rule, more a quasi-legal rule. Some legal or quasi-legal texts include the concept. The Constitutive Act of the African Union includes “the right of the Union to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the African Union assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”. The same is true for the Security Council of the UN. The concept was endorsed unanimously by heads of state during the World Summit of 2005, so it can be argued that the principle is part of international common law (i.e. international law established by coherent and unanimous state practice).

More here. More on humanitarian intervention here and here.

3 Comments

  1. Chomsky is essentially correct. “Humanitarian intervention” is used as a guise by the West for their neocolonial adventures. Just look at one prominent example, namely, Iraq. Notions of just interventionism have been used to justify wars of aggression, regime change, etc. Every criminal in history claims right intentions. The idea that states are perfectly altruistic is complete rubbish and to expect such a thing from them is foolhardy. The UN is actually very specific in their charter: “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42″ were “measures not involving the use of armed force” are preferred. The exception is Article 51, which allows for self-defense until the Security Council can respond. So that’s what the international community agrees with.

  2. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Responsibility to Protect (R2P) « P.A.P. Blog – Politics, Art and Philosophy [filipspagnoli.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  3. Pingback: The Ethics of Human Rights (78): Our Duties to People in Other Countries | P.a.p.-Blog // Human Rights Etc.

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