Responsibility to Protect – Selected Countries only

Posted: August 19, 2011 in English, Realpolitik
Tags: , , , , , , ,

by Jan Tzschichhold

In general, global companies  have representations and branches all over the world and can provide a variety of products for a host of different countries.  However. even for the biggest company, it is often difficult to provide such a service to all countries. Extremely small  footnotes are often the only indicator that  many countries are excluded. The United Nations, multi-national organisation of world politics, global seller of Human Rights and monopolist of security and peace (at least claim to be) is no exception to this rule of distributing certain goods only to a small selection of countries. The UN however forgets to put this important side note on its newest invention: The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

When the ICISS (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty ) developed the R2P in 2001, its main task was to create a global consensus of intervention for human protection purposes in order to prevent future situations of mass killings and genocide in the world. The truly global and well defined concept however, became watered down to such a great extent, when the UN adopted its key principle on the World Summit 2005, that it can not offer any real protection of threatened populations anymore.

In 2011 the UN authorized NATO, under the lead of France and the UK,  to intervene in Libya by creating a no-fly zone and supporting the rebels fight against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.  It was the first time that a military intervention into a sovereign state was authorized by the UN  using the concept of the Responsibility to Protect. Subsequent crises, similar to the Libyian case, such as Yemen and Bahrain, have stayed unanswered by the international community. Particularily in the case of Syria, many are asking why, if action was deemed so necessary for Libya, it is not for Syria. These are only recently developed cases. There were other instances in countries like Sudan, Guinea or Burma which were completely ignored or just halfheartedly handled. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect has fifteen similar crises listed, all of which satisfy the criteria of “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” which means they should be dealt with by the UN under the use of the R2P, but only in Libya has the international community acted.

So how is it, that the international community, or at least the more than one hundred and fifty countries that have voted for the adoption of the R2P in 2005, do not fulfill their responsibility to stop genocide and mass killing in the world? The main problem here is that the R2P in its current form is too vague and unclear to work properly. What exactly are “crimes against humanity” and who has the right to decide whether a country should be intervened in or not. The UN itself does not have an army so it has to shift the responsibility to protect member states. However, no country can be forced to take military action. Political will, domestic politics, self-interest and military capacity are the determining factors for intervention and not human suffering or a dictate from the UN. Without an obligation to the R2P or a punishment by failure, everyone’s duty eventually becomes no one’s duty.

The inventors of the Responsibility to Protect tried to create an international doctrine that was supposed to become a global law and was seen as a “revolution in consciousness in international affairs”. However without any form of real Executive or an established Judiciary in an anarchic state system, not even the best or upmost human law will be respected, or even has any chance of enforcement. For exactly this reason, current victims of genocide and mass killings all around the world are still exposed to the mercy and willingness of states to put their own soldiers at risk in order to defend strangers. A claimable right or way to enforce the R2P however, does not exist in any form.

The Responsibility to Protect put Crimes against Humanity on the agenda of the UN and therefore made it a primary concern of all its members. Nevertheless the doctrine has failed (until today) to become the driving force behind the protection of humans. That is why there still exists so many crises unanswered by the international community and is also why the R2P is only available in certain countries and not all over the world. Syrian people are still demonstrating because of the hopes that the R2P and the intervention of Libya raised, but so far, all their hopes were answered by machine-guns of their own government and not by a humanitarian mission of the UN.

  1. metin parlak says:

    Interesting piece, very fiery topic this one! First two blocks are from my essay 🙂

    The ICISS report is also open to criticism due to its calls for a strengthened UNSC yet ignores the issues of the members’ bias and how accountability can be issued to the permanent members who are unaccountable.

    Also the issue of the “Moral Hazard”: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in the Millennium Report that “Humanitarian intervention might encourage secessionist movements deliberately to provoke governments into committing gross violations to trigger external interventions to aid their cause”. Kuperman gives Kosovo as an example of this.

    Libya and Syria are not the best examples for intervention. Libya is in a fierce civil war, lets call it what it actually is.. and the Syrian people cant just be saved by the west since look what happened in Afghanistan since the west kicked out there oppressive governments. Afghan civilians face the brunt of force from both sides whilst the Americans have got bored and are pulling out soon whilst the country is no where near stable.

    • I do agree that Libya is not the best example. The Libyan situation developed very quickly into a civil war. It is true that the UN states “committing war crimes” as one reason necessary to enforce R2P but I think it is not legitimate if you have two fighting armies and both are committing war crimes. Furthermore is the R2P not suited for Libya since it is about to protect civilians, not to fight wars for one side in a civil war as it happens there.

      In Syria on the other hand we do not have a military resistance. There is only the military and police fighting against unarmed civilians. Also different to Afghanistan, where the people never actively demonstrated and fought for their rights as they do in Syria, an intervention would get a greater support of the public and is therefore more legitimated. i believe that the cases Libya and Syria should be handled the way around. The current situation and the gross violation of Human Rights fulfil more the necessary criteria for the R2P in Syria than they do in Libya.

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