Chair's Introduction to "The Responsibility to Protect: A Policy Forum"

by Kathy Gockel
Independent Policy Analyst


The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a relatively new concept focusing on a state’s responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and the responsibility of the international community when a state fails to meet its sovereign responsibility. R2P gained prominence and legitimacy in 2005 when it was incorporated into the UN’s World Summit Outcome document, which was ratified by all 192 Member States.

Several key contributions to the formulation of the concept and its ultimate incorporation into the Outcome document should be noted. First was the development of Sovereignty as Responsibility by Francis Deng and his colleagues at the Brookings Institution; second was the establishment of the independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) by the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Commission’s groundbreaking report, The Responsibility to Protect; third was the support given to the concept by former Secretary General Kofi Annan who encouraged Member States to embrace R2P during the 2005 World Summit.

Even given the ratification by all Member States, tremendous debate continues at the UN and in the international community over the R2P paragraphs 138 and 139 in the World Summit Outcome Document. One of the key debates centers on when a situation is a case of humanitarian intervention and when one should invoke R2P. The two are not the same, hence – R2P should only be invoked when genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity occur. A case in point is the debate that arose last year in response to the situation in Burma.

In January 2009, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon released a new report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, in an effort to advance deliberations and move the paragraphs from concept to application. A statement by US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, sent an early signal of potentially greater US support of the concept and its implementation.

This recent heightened attention on R2P combined with the intent to move it from theory to practice makes it a timely and interesting topic for Human Rights and Human Welfare‘s first online policy roundtable. However, the objective of the policy roundtable is not to offer original scholarship but to review and analyze existing policy publications to both inform the reader and offer further analysis.

Given the breadth of available publications on R2P, this forum in HRHW focuses on those from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The reasoning? Personnel at NGOs can often provide a more independent perspective than their colleagues in official government positions, since NGOs tend to have fewer political constraints on their analysis and recommendations.

Three reports are reviewed in this forum. The Responsibility to Prevent: A Report to Congress from the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) was chosen due to ongoing concerns that R2P focuses too much on the use of force and not enough on steps to mitigate/resolve the situation before it escalates into violence. The Impossible Mandate? Military Preparedness, the Responsibility to Protect and Modern Peace Operations from the Stimson Center was included as military missions are often tasked to respond but the international community’s understanding of the military challenges is often limited. Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers, a joint project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Institute of Peace, was selected because the international community vowed “never again” after its failure in Rwanda and yet the world still seems to lack the political will to make that promise a reality.

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