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The ethics of “Responsibility while Protecting”: Brazil, the Responsibility to Protect and guidelines for humanitarian intervention
Dr. James Pattison, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Manchester
Human Rights and Human Welfare: Working papers
1 April 2013
In the aftermath of the NATO intervention in Libya, the responsibility to protect (RtoP) doctrine has received considerable blowback. Various states, most notably some of the ‘BRICS’ states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), claimed that NATO exceeded its mandate given to it by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973 (by allegedly focusing on regime change rather than on the protection of civilians), was inappropriate in its target selection, violated the arms embargo by transferring arms to rebels, and generally caused too much harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure. (…)
In this context, in 2011 Brazil presented the ‘responsibility while protecting’ (RwP) initiative. According to Brazil, this offers “an additional conceptual step” and “a new perspective” on RtoP and the protection of civilians more generally (2011b: 16). RwP highlights the need for those undertaking humanitarian intervention considering alternative measures first, to take extra care when using military force to protect civilians, and to report continually to the UNSC. Italso brings back to the fore the issue of guidelines for humanitarian intervention (in this case, for the UNSC).
Subsequently, RwP has been cited in various discussions on RtoP. For instance, it was subject to a section of the UN Secretary General’s (SG) recent report on pillar three of RtoP, Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response (Ki-moon 2012: 13–15). In this report, Ban Ki-Moon argues that the initiative is “welcome” (2012: 13) and that it “provides a useful pathway for continuing dialogue about ways of bridging different perspectives and forging strategies for timely and decisive responses to crimes and violations relating to RtoP” (2012: 15). (…)
On the one hand, Brazil’s RwP initiative has been seen as a vital addition to RtoP, strengthening it at a time when it was facing a difficult period and ameliorating the worries surrounding the intervention surrounding Libya. (…)
On the other hand, some have argued that RwP is morally problematic and “suggests additions or interpretations that conflict with the existing consensus [on RtoP] and may turn into obstacles to timely and decisive protection” (Kolb 2012: 9). (…)
Much depends, then, on the normative worth of the Brazilian initiative. Should it be welcomed and does it bode well for the roles that emerging powers may play in the future? Or, does it face several moral problems that signify major worries about the roles that emerging powers such as Brazil will play in the promotion of RtoP and other similar norms? Consequently, the primary aim of this paper is to assess the normative worth of RwP. I will first outline the details of RwP and its development (Section II). I will then suggest that RwP adopts what I will call a ‘Restrictive Approach’ to the ethics of humanitarian intervention. I will argue that such an approach and RwP’s account of the guidelines governing humanitarian intervention are morally desirable. As already noted, one upshot of the development of RwP has been a renewed interest in the possibility of guidelines or criteria for humanitarian intervention.
However, the utility of guidelines or criteria for humanitarian intervention has been subject to some scepticism (e.g., Bellamy 2011: 164–9; Brown 2005; Weiss 2005). A secondary aim of the paper—which I turn to in Section III—is to argue that the development of guidelines for humanitarian intervention under RtoP, as highlighted by RwP, would also be morally desirable. In fact, I will argue that guidelines for humanitarian intervention under RtoP already exist to some extent; what RwP adds is an interpretation of these guidelines in accordance with the Restrictive Approach to the permissibility and conduct of intervention. In the conclusion (Section IV), I will consider some of the political implications of RwP. (…)


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