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Strengthening the Rule of Law is essential to implement the Responsibility to Protect
Sapna Chhatpar Considine, Megan Schmidt, Rachel Shapiro, and Amelia Wolf - ICRtoP
Winter 2013 Issue of WF News
World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy
February 2013
In September 2012, Member States participated in a high-level meeting at the United Nations on strengthening the “rule of law”. This agenda seeks to ensure that governments — as well as all individuals and institutions -- adhere and are held accountable to laws that are equally and fairly enforced and consistent with international human rights norms and standards. As such, the rule of law has long been considered a tool for the prevention of crimes under the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) – a norm that aims to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
The Responsibility to Protect is founded on the idea that a state’s sovereignty entails the responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities. This notion, supported by all governments and heads of state in 2005 when they endorsed RtoP at the World Summit, represented an important shift in the international order as world leaders agreed that sovereignty would not be used as a shield to massacre populations.
Strengthening the rule of law reinforces this principle of responsible sovereignty by requiring states to provide fundamental rights to populations. In the context of the Responsibility to Protect, a strong rule of law would mean that populations are protected under domestic law from RtoP crimes, and that anyone who threatens or commits these violations would be rapidly investigated and held to account by strong national, regional and international judicial institutions. With mechanisms in place to ensure that perpetrators cannot commit these acts with impunity, the state will deter future mass atrocities more effectively.
Additional measures to prevent the commission of and impunity for RtoP crimes may include ensuring that domestic laws respect diversity and protect the human rights of all individuals without discrimination; promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes; and providing access to legal, security and judicial services for vulnerable groups including women, children and minorities who are disproportionately affected by atrocity crimes.
States can further enhance the rule of law by strengthening international mechanisms and institutions, including by supporting commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions that seek to uncover facts related to alleged crimes. Cooperating with international and hybrid criminal tribunals, including by ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, can help ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes committed.
Yet as history shows, States do not always have the capacity or the political will to effectively promote the rule of law at the state-level or commit to their obligations under the Responsibility to Protect. States and regional and international organizations can, independently or in coalitions, call on governments to strengthen their rule of law and provide incentives to increase a state’s political will to do so. When States lack the resources to strengthen the rule of law in their country or fulfill their obligations to protect their populations, they can collaborate bilaterally, multilaterally, regionally, or with international institutions. International assistance to a government to support the rule of law, and thereby prevent atrocity crimes, may include providing financial support to strengthen legal, judicial and security sector institutions; training police personnel to enforce international human rights standards; and implementing peacekeeping operations to maintain stability, prevent the escalation of conflict and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. Throughout all of these efforts, as Member States and the United Nations work to assist one another in strengthening the rule of law, they are working to support the Responsibility to Protect framework.
The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) is a global network of NGOs working to advance RtoP at all levels. ICRtoP members will continue to support ongoing efforts to strengthen the rule of law in their countries and regions, and encourage world leaders to commit to enhancing their abilities to protect their populations from RtoP crimes. As UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien said during a 27 June 2012 roundtable discussion on RtoP, “the rule of law is key to the implementation of R2P and hence, to the prevention of atrocities.”

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