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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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Syria is a failure of commitment, not principle
The Washington Post
Alex J. Bellamy
16 February 2016

The Responsibility to Protect is a disarmingly simple principle. Agreed to in 2005 by every world government, it holds that states should protect their populations from atrocious crimes and that when they manifestly fail to do so, the world — through the U.N. and regional organizations — should take timely and decisive action to protect people in their stead.

Though it might not look like it, the world is better at responding to atrocities today than it was in the past. Compared with the 15 years before 2005, the international community is more likely to respond to humanitarian crises and much more likely to focus on protecting civilians.

But like all political principles, the responsibility to protect — R2P for short — is not a self-executing silver bullet. Political leaders must commit the will and resources needed to deliver on their commitments. And when it comes to today’s crisis in Syria, the international community has clearly failed to fulfill its duty.


One of the most obvious ways in which governments can fulfill their responsibility to protect innocent Syrian citizens is by providing asylum to those fleeing Bashar al-Assad’s “barrel bombs” and the Islamic State’s beheadings. Rather than the piecemeal, disjointed and perpetually shifting policy it has adopted this far, the international community should empower the U.N.’s high commissioner for refugees to register the displaced, ascertain their credentials as genuine refugees and find resettlement places in third countries.

Governments should also dramatically step up the provision of humanitarian relief to front-line states — the U.N.’s humanitarian request was little more than half-met in 2015 and is faring little better in 2016 — and inside Syria, and to think about better ways to deliver it to those most in need. Should cease-fire proposals fail to deliver — as well they might — ideas such as militarily defensible secure zones and humanitarian aid corridors might have to be dusted off and seriously considered.

At the institutional level, governments should provide international support for the U.N.-brokered peace negotiations and search for tangible ways to reward those committed to peace and to punish those who block it. Both in this crisis and elsewhere, more resources should be made available to investigate atrocity crimes, to ensure that those responsible are one day held to account. These and other measures are practical steps that can make a real difference to whether people live or die.

The Responsibility to Protect was born out of a shared belief that we must do better to protect people from mass atrocities, and a conviction that we could do better. Syria shows that we have a long way to go to make it a lived reality.

Yet retreating into cynicism and blame won’t help those living under threat. What is needed is frank acknowledgement of failure, a shared determination to do better and imaginative thinking about how to overcome the roadblocks. We owe that to the survivors of Syria’s horror.

Read the full article here.


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