What Is R2P and Why Is It So Important

January 22, 2009 by cgsstlouischapter

                                                By Ronald J. Glossop

 

  “R2P” is the abbreviation for a new interpretation of “national sovereignty” now guiding the United Nations when it addresses this central concept.  The traditional view of “national sovereignty” was established by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia at the end of the Thirty Years War.  That absolute view of national sovereignty was that each national government could do whatever it wanted within its own national boundaries and that no other government had any right to intervene in its internal affairs.

   The new view of national sovereignty, now officially adoped by both the General Assembly and the Security Council is that part of what is involved in national sovereigny is the “Responsibility to Protect” the human rights of everyone inhabiting its territory.  Furthermore, and this is the crux of the new view, if a national government does not protect the rights of its inhabitants, the international community (but not individual nation-states) has a right to intervene to see that those rights are protected.

    This new view of national sovereignty has been forced to the forefront by what was done by the German and Japanese governments during World War II. The Nuremberg Trials made it clear that national governments do not have a right to do anything they want.  The need to address exactly what “national sovereignty” entails was raised again by the ethnic cleansing that took place in the former Yugoslavia in 1990s and by the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994.  These incidents led everyone to see that the world community cannot just stand idly by while massacres occur.  But on what legal basis can the world community do anything?

    One of the first world leaders to address this issue was U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  In 1992 he noted that “the time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty . . . has passed.”  The intervention by NATO in Kosovo in 1999 led U.N. Secretary-General to ask the General Assembly this question:  “[I]f humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica–to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?”

    The idea that sovereignty should be thought of in terms of responsibility for protecting rights was developed by Francis Deng and his colleagues at the Brookings Institution with special attention to managing conflict in Africa.  In 2000 the Constitutive Act of the African Union affirmed “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect to grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.”

    A giant step forward on the “right of humanitarian intervention” at the global level occurred in September 2000 when the government of Canada announced to the U.N. General Assembly that it, with the help of several foundations, would establish the International Commission on Intervention and State [that is, National] Sovereignty (ICISS). The Co-Chairs were Gareth Evans of Australia and Mohamed Sahnoun of Algeria while the other members were Giséle Coté-Harper of Canada, Lee Hamilton of the United States, Michael Ignatieff of Canada, Vladimir Lukin of Russia, Klaus Naumann of Germany, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Fidel Ramos of the Philippines, Cornelio Sommaruga of Switzerland, Eduardo Stein Barillas of Guatemala, and Ramesh Thakur of India.

    The Commission’s report, The Responsibility to Protect, was published in December 2001.  Ron Glossop’s book review of it can be found on the website of Citizens for Global Solutions <http://www.globalsolutions.org>.  The key point of the report is to shift focus from “sovereignty as control” to “sovereignty as responsibility.” (p. 13)  Furthermore, the responsibility to protect includes (both for national governments and for the international community) not only the responsibility to react to human catastrophes but also to prevent them and to rebuild the community afterwards. (p. 17)

    In December 2004 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change fully embraced and called for implementation of the Responsibility to Protect principle.  The following year the Secretary-General’s own report In Larger Freedom:  Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All presenting recommendations for action to the 60th session of the General Assembly included a reference to the “emerging norm of the Responsibility to Protect.”

  In September 2005 the U.N. General Assembly incorporated the Responsibility to Protect principle into the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.  Paragraph 138 reads: “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.”

   Paragraph 139 says:  “The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibiliity 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. ” 

   On April 28, 2006 these two key paragraphs of the World Summit Outcome Document were affirmed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council when it adopted Resolution 1674 on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.  It says:  “The Security Council reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

   There is plenty of theoretical support for the Responsibility to Protect principle both among national governments and the public, but how to implement it in particular circumstances has yet to be worked out. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is pushing the national governments hard to get this problem of implemention solved.

   Civil society is pushing national governments to act responsibly.  We can be proud that the coordination of this NGO-effort is in the hands of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP) in New York, who were asked to fulfill that task by the Canadian government.  This work is being done under the name “Responsibility to Protect-Engaging Civil Society” or more simply “r2p-cs” (where “cs” is for “civil society”).  The website is <http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org> and the e-mail address is <r2p-cs@wfm.org>.

 

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