WHAT IS R2P AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

April 1, 2009 by cgsstlouischapter

Ronald J. Glossop

(This article is continued from the Winter-Spring 2009 newsletter)

  “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.

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    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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