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Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a recently developed concept in international relations which relates to a state's responsibilities towards its population and to the international community's responsibility in case a state fails to fulfill its responsibilities. One important aim, among others, is to provide a legal and ethical basis for "humanitarian intervention" : the intervention by external actors (preferably the international community through the UN) in a state that is unwilling or unable to prevent or stop genocide, massive killings and other massive human rights violations. Supporters of R2P view it as a method of establishing a normative basis for humanitarian intervention and its consistent application. Detractors argue that by justifying external breaches of state sovereignty, R2P encourages foreign aggression by stronger nations. The R2P principles were first developed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) (established by the Government of Canada) in the December 2001 report "The Responsibility to Protect."

With the increase in intrastate conflict, the growth of international civil society, the increased recognition of human rights, and the growing appreciation of global interconnectivity and the responsibility of governments to their citizens during the 1990s, has come a pressure on states to protect the civilians in countries other than their own. The principles of R2P state that if a particular state is unwilling or unable to carry out its responsibility to prevent such abuses, that responsibility must be transferred to the international community, which must attempt to solve problems initially via peaceful means (such as diplomatic pressure, dialogue, even sanctions) and then, as a last resort, through the use of military force. This is either seen as extraterritoriality, or an expression of universal morality.


International recognition

Globalization has changed the international system such that states are more inter-connected and therefore are less likely to ignore the behaviors that they find cruel within the neighboring states. Also, there is an increasing social sentiment towards humanitarian issues abroad.

The September 2005 World Summit outcome document endorsed the responsibility to protect:

138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

2005 World Summit outcome document,[1]

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted by the United Nations Security Council on April 28, 2006, "Reaffirm[ed] the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" and commits the Security Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.[2][3] In February 2008, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Edward Luck as his Special Adviser for the R2P at the Assistant Secretary-General level.


Gareth Evans, co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and President of the International Crisis Group, helped formulate the principle and promote it to the United Nations.[4] At the United Nations, the Responsibility to Protect has been supported by the Representatives of Canada, Australia, Argentina, Ghana, Mali, Sweden, Switzerland, Rwanda, and the UK.

Responsibility to Protect has also been embraced by proponents of human security who welcome the R2P Report's attempt to embrace the protection of people within the current international framework based on state sovereignty. Human security advocates have been frustrated by the difficulties in garnering support for and implementing the Responsibility to Protect effectively on a global scale, but support the reasoning and principles of the Report.


Some, like Walden Bello, criticize the Responsibility to Protect as a form of imperialism. [5] Some nations, mainly developing countries, hold concerns that the Responsibility to Protect will be abused and serve to allow powerful states to further their own interests.
Other governments will not permit the use of their country's soldiers in matters which they do not consider to be a national threat, nor will some, most notably the United States, allow their soldiers to be commanded by an integrated command structure.

Another criticism of the Responsibility to Protect is that it places too much emphasis on violent events and does not address equally devastating cases of famine and poverty.

A common criticism of the Responsibility to Protect is its lack of attention to the characterization of those in need of protection. In particular, those in need of protection are expected to exhibit a series of characteristics (i.e. apolitical, immobile, helpless, suffering) which determine their need [6]. As a result, if those in need fail to meet this expectation, or assemble or organize in unexpected or unpredictable ways, they are deemed to no longer need protection.


According to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), the responsibility to protect is broken down into three parts:

  • The responsibility to prevent
  • The responsibility to react
  • The responsibility to rebuild

Threshold for military interventions

According to the ICISS, any form of a military intervention initiated under the premise of responsibility to protect must fulfill the following six criteria in order to be justified as an extraordinary measure of intervention:

  1. Just Cause
  2. Right Intention
  3. Final Resort
  4. Legitimate Authority
  5. Proportional Means
  6. Reasonable Prospect


When a sovereign state consents to intervention, it is no longer an issue of the Responsibility to Protect, it is then called peacekeeping.

Events that have involved the responsibility to protect debate since the Cold war:

See also


  1. ^ 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, World Health Organization, 15 September 2005. p.31
  2. ^ Resolution 1674 (2006)
  3. ^ Oxfam, 28 April 2006
  4. ^ "The Responsibility to Protect—Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes". Adele Simmons, Gareth Evans, Samantha Power, guests. [Your World]. National Public Radio. KQED, San Francisco, California. 2009-01-26.
  5. ^ Bello
  6. ^ Rancière, Jacques, Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man? The South Atlantic Quarterly - Volume 103, Number 2/3, Spring/Summer 2004, pp. 297-310


Further reading


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