The RtoP and Responsibility while Protecting: The Secretary-General’s Timely and Decisive Report on Timely and Decisive Responses
Human Rights & Human Welfare, University of Denver
31 October 2012
Dr James Pattison is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester. His research interests include humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect, the ethics of war, and the increased use of private military and security companies.
The United Nations Secretary-General's report on pillar three of the responsibility to protect (RtoP), "Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response," is the most interesting, timely, and decisive of his four reports thus far on the RtoP. To start with, the subject matter of pillar three – the international community's potentially coercive responses to humanitarian crises, including humanitarian intervention – is the most controversial part of the RtoP doctrine and the area that has attracted the most criticism from skeptics. Previous reports, such as Implementing the Responsibility to Protect(2009),gave pillar three, and humanitarian intervention in particular, fairly short shrift, focusing instead on the far less controversial issues, such as capacity-building, assistance, and early warning. (…)
First, the report defends strongly the moral case for humanitarian intervention on occasion (e.g., "[a]fter the tragedies of Rwanda and Srebrenica, none can argue that Chapter VII measures can never be an appropriate response"). This is contrary to those who, for varying reasons, deny the permissibility of such action.
Second, the report takes a strong stance on some legal issues. Against those who have doubted the legality of humanitarian intervention (in the 1990s in particular), the report asserts that humanitarian intervention is legal when authorized by the UN Security Council ("the Security Council can authorize the use of force"). It also asserts that the Security Council must authorize humanitarian intervention and largely dismisses the legal authority of regional organizations to do so. (…)
Third, against those skeptical of the ICC's merits (and those of other tribunals) and who believe that it has been counterproductive in the promotion of human rights, the report notes that "the emergence of a system of international criminal justice has had a positive influence on the development of the concept of RtoP."
Fourth, the report challenges the more recent claims that the RtoP doctrine is empty rhetoric and has done little to tackle the four central crimes (crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide). It argues instead that the "international community has made significant progress" in the implementation of the RtoP.
Fifth, the report takes a very robust line on the issue of sequencing ("[p]illars are not sequenced"). That is, it rejects the view that the three pillars of the RtoP should be carried out sequentially, so that humanitarian intervention would be only a last resort. To that extent, it repudiates a central aspect of the original "Responsibility while Protecting" (RWP) initiative by Brazil, which in the original concept note proposed this sequencing (although the Brazilians have since changed their view on this issue). (…)
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