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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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On September 16, 2005, the World Summit at the United Nations unanimously affirmed the esponsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.1 That action was a politically important step in establishing the significance of the doctrinal Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Putting R2P into practice presents a separate and even more difficult set of challenges.

Because R2P addresses issues of sovereignty, developing countries are particularly sensitive to the way in which the idea is implemented. In many parts of the world, there is wariness if not outright resistance. However, at the Stanley Foundations 43rd conference on the United Nations of the Next Decade, held in the Convento do Espinheiro in vora, Portugal, between June 20 and June 25, 2008, there were clear indications that many developing countriesome living with quite recent atrocities at home or in neighboring countries are embracing R2P in the spirit of ever again.

The two R2P paragraphs in the final 2005 Summit Outcome Document put forth the three core pillars of this concept:

1. The responsibility of each individual state to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and their incitement.

2. The responsibility of the international community to undertake peaceful collective action to help states to exercise this responsibility, including concerted long-term capacity-building efforts and short-term preventive diplomacy.

3. The responsibility of the international community to be prepared to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner through the UN Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, if national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from these four crimes.

The Stanley Foundations Evera conference provided an important forum for representatives of UN member states, Secretariat officials, and experts from think tanks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to reflect on ways of putting the idea into action. The conference was held ahead of consideration of this topic by the UN General Assembly and a few weeks before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moons speech about R2P in Berlin. This summary highlights the primary findings, conclusions, and recommendations that surfaced in the course of five days of substantive dialogue. The full report, which follows this summary, delves more deeply into the intricacies of the issues.

The Conceptual and Normative Dimensions of R2P

The World Summit Outcome Document addresses R2P in paragraphs 138 and 139. Participants said the language of those paragraphs leaves R2P short of being a new binding norm. Depending on ones point of view, R2P could be called a oncept, a rinciple, an volving trend, a trong political commitment, an merging norm, or an bligation with legal significance. Fundamentally, the provisions in these paragraphs are based on, and reconfirm, preexisting international norms. Therefore, their legal value is less important than the fact that the paragraphs signal a deeper political commitment on the part of all member states.

The history of post-Cold War international humanitarian crises and the final conceptual formation of the R2P framework in the 1990s and early 2000s are key to understanding where the international community now stands on the issue. That said, the focus for moving forward should be the agreed paragraphs 138-139 if the R2P framework is to be turned into an effective and actionable norm.

The obligations of the state toward its own citizens in paragraph 138 are stated in a very unequivocal manner, while the international obligations in 139 are phrased in less direct language. The international community will need to clarify the full intent of paragraph 139. It cannot now be seen as a coherent mandate for action in all of its aspects.

The Politics of Ongoing R2P Debates

There is a great deal of wariness of the efficacy of military interventions that might be employed should preventive diplomacy and other peaceful means under UN Charter Articles VI or VIII fail. Elite political support for actualizing R2P differs by world region. Africa is arguably ahead of the United Nations in developing and making this concept operational. Latin American interest may be growing while Middle Eastern leaders are somewhat skeptical of R2P debates, given the numerous Cold War and contemporary interventions in their regions.

The character of interstate disagreements on exhibit at the United Nations does not reflect transnational attitudes in civil society. Many groups in the developing world, including domestic NGOs, are focused on humanitarian issues, effectively aligning them with similarly interested large and well-funded Western global NGOs. For instance, indigenous civil society organizations in Latin America are active on R2P as part of their overall focus on human rights. This derives from recent democratic developments and from the reaction against earlier interventions. Notably, such groups not only talk about human rights in their own backyards, but also eagerly discuss issues such as the application of R2P to Sudan. Debates on this concept are also proceeding apace among NGOs in Southeast Asia, and the subject has been broached in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The de facto coalitions of global, transnational, Western NGOs and indigenous developing country NGOs are demanding more action. If the United Nations does not respond more effectively to mass atrocities, civil society groups will likely seek other avenues for action, including pressuring individual states.

This gap between the United Nations, individual capitals, and (trans)national civil society will have to be bridged if R2P is to be actualized. Toward that end:

Domestic legislatures could be positive international actors in making R2P a part of interparliamentary dialogues. Accordingly, both the UN Special Advisor on R2P and international NGOs should engage the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliaments.

In New York, think tanks and NGOs should sensitize UN member states to the issues surrounding R2P by organizing seminars, especially in advance of debates on this subject in the General Assembly.

The Special Advisor to the secretary-general on R2P should continue consultations with civil society groups with a view to explaining the intergovernmental process on R2P in order to avoid a short-term crisis of expectations.

Distrust between the Security Council and General Assembly, and between the Global North and South, has bogged down progress on global issues, including R2P. Therefore:

At the United Nations, transparency of process, information, and decisions is paramount to keeping R2P debates from becoming needlessly contentious.

While civil society can provide pressure, if R2P is to gain international political legitimacy, the General Assembly must be at the center of the global debate and clarify, expand on, and push the concept forward.

Further development of R2P over the next several years should be supported by funds from the regular budget rather than by ad hoc, voluntary contributions by individual donors with their own conditionalities. This, in turn, increases the responsibility of the General Assembly to fully and consistently fund posts and programs related to this task.

Early R2P efforts should focus on the first two pillarsapacity-building, early warning networks, preventive diplomacy, and other noncoercive means.

Activist efforts to expand the scope of R2P beyond the four crimes listed in paragraphs 138-139 are an obstacle to building sustainable global consensus around R2P.

Early Warning, Prevention, and Capacity-Building

Based on the agreement that preventing mass atrocities is preferable to reacting to them, conference participants supported the early warning capability described in paragraph 138, provided that the General Assembly is firmly involved in building trust around future information-gathering and assessments.

The main challenge will be to establish an assessment capability that will reliably and coherently bring together all the information available in both the far-flung UN system and the global network of NGOs (what one participant called network of networks), followed by a balanced and broadly trusted assessment. Recent methodological advances made by non-state groups (academia, think tanks, NGOs) should be incorporated as appropriate.

Participants differed over whether this collection and assessment point belonged in the General Assembly or the Secretariat. But wherever and however this capability is constituted, its results should be shared with all intergovernmental bodies responsible for defining appropriate policy responses in R2P situations. Those include the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the Peacebuilding Commission, as well as regional groups and concerned member states.

Toward the end of pre-conflict prevention, the extensive use of the secretary-generals good offices could be essential, but the secretary-general and his staff would need strong political backing from UN member states. This means that member states must get past the stigma of aming those countries that may be in a potential downward slide to mass violence.

The Role of Regions in Prevention

Conference participants stressed that Chapter VIII (responses by regional actors) is an area of understudied potential for making R2P operational. There is a growing trend in Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia to deal with violent crises at the regional level first, and then to resort to the international level only when those crises cannot be successfully addressed in a regional framework. Therefore, an early preventive response should include an assessment of the comparative advantages of relevant regional organizations and UN capabilities, pointing toward the ideal form of global-regional interactions early in the process.

The international community should provide more capacity-building assistance to regional intergovernmental organizations and civil society groups for purposes of timely prevention of violence and protection of populations. For instance, there could be more focused funding of nascent efforts by domestic NGOs in the Global South to meet with their counterparts in local settings for crucial information-sharing and mutual empowerment. Currently, most funds for transnational meetings reside in Western capitals or among global NGOs.

Regional ownership should not be overstretched or result in an abdication of responsibility by the broader international community. Often the major monies and capabilities for humanitarian efforts reside outside the region of concern. Collective security arrangements in some regions are far less developed than in others, and this unevenness means that extra-regional actors will remain important in reaching solutions.

Sometimes, it is the government elites themselves who are the culprits, and they may promote a purely regional response hoping that local lack of capabilities, and/or the presence of parochial interests, will undermine an effective response. Sudans requirement of a purely African Union intervention force was noted as one clear example of this approach.

Thus, the secretary-generalith information flowing in from the multitude of agencies on the ground, as well as from civil societyay need to start preventive diplomatic efforts, bringing in a focus on global R2P principles.


Conference attendees said that it is impossible to make paragraph 139 operational with a one-size-fits-all approach. While the international community should try diplomatic channels before resorting to coercion, no participant interpreted paragraph 139 as establishing a strict temporal sequence of peaceful and forceful means, or as a clear, strict sequence for applying Chapters VI, VII, and VIII of the Charter.

Not all coercive actions will be military, and conversely, not all military actions will be coercive. The peculiarities of some cases may call for early simultaneous deployment of peacekeepers along with early efforts at humanitarian assistance and preventive diplomacy. The symbolic presence of some blue helmets or regional military missionss in Macedonia in the late 1990say act as a deterrent against further purposeful escalations by hostile groups or leaders. In addition, threats to terminate UN aid by the secretary-general or Security Council, along with international sanctions, may be needed to halt a trend toward violence, and these would constitute coercive measures that fall well short of actual military action, possibly in league with preventive diplomacy.


Rebuilding priorities includes the reforming of the security sector (both xternal and nternal soldiers and the police) and improving the rule of law and the judicial system. The return of refugees is another peace-building priority, alongside the buildup of the most basic public services (sanitation, water, electricity), economic stability (especially currency stability), and eventually more inclusive forms of government.

Sometimes there is a real tension between international economic institutions and UN post-conflict development and peace-building programs. Participants asked whether liberalized financial growth should be an immediate post-conflict goal in fragile societies, arguing that the conditional requirements of such approaches (based on funds often far in excess of than those offered by individual donors or UN programs) could swamp the more nuanced political and developmental focus of actors such as the Peacebuilding Commission, United Nations Development Programme, and individual donor states. Some participants underlined the need for simple economic stabilization in fragile post-conflict societies rather than aggressive growth strategies. Dialogue that clarifies the roles and priorities of the various agencies is needed.

Responsibility and Accountability in the UN System

Rather than establishing new institutions specific to R2P, an R2P perspective should be integrated into existing work performed by the United Nations and its partners. For instance, education of young people and enhanced free domestic media could dissuade youths from succumbing to extremist appeals by ntrepreneurial politicians. Therefore, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization should offer assistance to states in promoting tolerance through education and the media in order to prevent mass atrocities.

The ultimate R2P roles of the Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the Peacebuilding Commission, and the exact relationship of these General Assembly grounded bodies to the Secretariat and the Security Council, need additional clarification. For instance, in the rebuilding phase of R2P, the Peacebuilding Commission could help post-conflict governments focus their priorities on few key issues that would help prevent renewed mass violence.

The General Assembly should play a central role in this process. Some participants cautioned strongly against viewing the General Assembly as the primary implementing body for R2P, noting that the General Assemblys strength is not quick reaction but rather the creation of new structures or institutional practices around evolving norms. Many participants therefore urged that the outcome or goal of General Assembly discussions be about the budgetary and diplomatic empowerment of the secretary-general and the Secretariat related to this issue. Without broad General Assembly approval (and funding) of the legitimacy of a strong Secretariat role, the secretary-general will inevitably be seen as a biased actor or merely an agent of the Security Council, either of which is a problematic position.

The International Criminal Court

Both the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the R2P framework share the objective of giving politicians the incentive to refrain from committing mass atrocities. However, it is not always advisable for the ICC to issue arrest warrants when there is no prospect of taking accused criminals into custody or when peace and reconciliation processes are still ongoing and fragile. Rapid post-conflict indictments might pose a severe irritant to the immediate goal of peace-building, unless such ICC actions are deliberately and strategically integrated in a way that make them part and parcel of the long-term reconciliation process. A sequential strategy for diplomatic and judicial processes at the end of armed conflict could mitigate potential conflicts between the goals of a peace process and the goals of criminal justice.


While the issues to be navigated are many and complex, conference participants did not despair. It was clear that R2P is happening too quickly for some and too slowly for others. However, the international community seems to be gradually moving toward an embrace of acting sooner rather than later to halt mass atrocities.

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