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Responsibility to Protect: How should Southeast Asia Respond?
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies: Commentaries
Yang Razali Kassim & Nur Azha Putra
26 April 2010

AS A NEW and fledgling doctrine in international relations, it is as contentious as it is, some say, revolutionary. This doctrine – the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) -- may be slowly gaining traction, but it remains immensely controversial. This is at least the key message from a regional consultation held recently among scholars, analysts and civil society actors from the Asia Pacific region. The nub of the controversy is the inevitable clash between two principles: the sovereignty of states and the responsibility of the international community to protect human lives in situations of failing states.

Reconciling Clashing Principles

How does one reconcile the two contesting principles? Can they indeed be reconciled? How does the international community come to the rescue of citizens whose own states are unable or unwilling to protect them from mass atrocities such as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? And how can this moral urge to protect be pursued without violating the principle of state sovereignty? This tension between the two doctrines in international affairs was intensely debated at the Singapore meeting, organised by Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Led by the RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS), the meeting ended with one clear impression: it’s early days yet for the doctrine of RtoP. It has a long way to go before it becomes as entrenched as the Westphalian principle of inviolable state sovereignty. (…)

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