The concept of Responsibility to protect (R2P) (written in 2010)
The mass atrocities and international crimes against humanity that were committed in Bosnia – Herzegovina, Kosovo and Rwanda have led to a renewed concept of international law where state sovereignty is to be seen as responsibility where countries must stop genocides, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing from happening to their people. However, this is a ‘responsibility’ and not a ‘privilege’ and thus when states willfully commit these crimes on their own citizens or when they are powerless to stop it , the international community must intervene, to stop these crimes by taking ‘collective, timely and decisive’ action through the Security Council under chapter seven of the United Nations charter.
This multilateral approach has been termed as the ‘Responsibility to protect (R2P)’ and it has been embraced by the United Nations general assembly in 2005 and the Security Council respectively. A recent example of a successful implementation of this principle is the decision by the Security Council to intervene in Libya by applying measures such as a no fly zone, asset freezes, an arms embargo, travel bans on delegates and reference of those who have committed atrocities to the international criminal court. These measures have prevented the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Libyan civilians by their leader colonel Muammar Qaddafi.
Implementation of the principle of the responsibility to protect (R2P) is achieved by following the ‘three pillars ‘strategy. Pillar one state that the primary and most important responsibility to protect the people rests with sovereign states. Since sovereign states are seen as ‘equal’ representatives in the community of nations regardless of wealth or political influence, this same responsibility of representation to the people makes them the ultimate body to protect their population against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Pillar two is designed to give the appropriate support systems and capacity by the United Nations and the international community at large should states require such help .This support is given via assistance in capacity building, training and education on rights and protection of people and further support to nations before crisis and conflict beaks out.
Pillar three states that should nations fail to protect their people whether by institutional incapacity or willful incitement, the the international community through united nations security council must take steps to prevent mass atrocities by using a broad range of policy attributes such as economic sanctions, arms sales ban, travel ban, termination of representation in regional and international bodies as well as military intervention.
There are potential areas where this principle can be abused and the rules used for the benefits of the few at the cost of the many. To begin with, establishing institutions which foster tolerance and build bridges among divided communities is a long term task which requires commitment both materially and human resource wise. Committing to such goals by both international governing bodies as well elected governments which are agenda and time specific can be a harder task to fulfill. The geopolitical interests of the permanent members of the Security Council may also pose a threat and may do more harm than good as unilateral and multilateral interventions in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 have shown. Such states may target nations with specific natural resources or geostrategic interests by the pretense of ‘humanitarian intervention’ to steal the resources for their own benefit.
To address these problems, specifically dedicated organizations should be established within the framework of regional, inter-regional and international organizations to address specific issues regarding the principle of the responsibility to protect. Additionally the authorization of any form of sanction or force must be first requested and further endorsed by regional governing bodies than the Security Council in order to provide legitimacy and prevent further abuses of power by the select few. While the use of military force should always be considered as the last effort, the request for application of such force must preliminary come from the regional governing bodies than the other bodies and not the ‘permanent members` of the security council as this would in some if not most parts of the world would tantamount to colonialism in one way or another
There is no better example of a successful intervention than the one in Libya for several reasons. First, state institutions commonly applied as primary step to protect the people were absent .Second, the Libyan regime had lost most of its political credibility long before the uprising as it’s belligerent attitude towards international rules have made it an incompetent if not a dangerous partner in regional and international institutions. The declaration by the regime to commit mass atrocities ‘house by house’ has alerted the international community to have a clear understanding of the intentions which intern gave way to swift interventions to protect the lives of the civilian population. This specific intervention has given way to a wide embrace of such of the principles of responsibility to protect (R2P) and although further refining of the rules is required, the intervention in Libya has given more or less a blue print to what future missions to protect civilian population would look like and how the debate will shape intervention policies.