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Aiding Iraqis Meets Responsibility to Protect and Could Lead to Common Ground on Syria
Global Observatory
Alex J. Bellamy
11 August 2014
Since its emergence around April 2013 as a major player in Syria’s civil war, the radical jihadist group which calls itself the Islamic State (known as ISIS) established a formidable reputation for brutality, arbitrary killing, and mass atrocities. In Syria, the group used extreme violence against non-combatants as much as enemy fighters to impose its will. Intent on forcibly and quickly re-engineering society to fit its own ideological vision, ISIS employed massive violence and extreme brutality to cow dissent, enforce its rules, and eliminate potential opponents. In pursuit of its objectives, ISIS crucified, beheaded, stoned, shot, knifed, tortured, and bludgeoned thousands of Syrian non-combatants to death.
Past history teaches us that the road to genocide is paved with the ideological fervor of extremists bent on imposing their particular vision of utopia upon unsupportive populations. This week, many miles away from Syria, a court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, found two elderly communist extremists–leading members of the Khmer Rouge–guilty of crimes against humanity that contributed to the destruction of a quarter of that country’s population in a little over three years. ISIS offers the Middle East a similarly destructive blend of unworldly ideology and massive doses of unbridled violence. (…)
In its wake, ISIS ruthlessly imposed its vision of sharia law. It was not long before reports of mass atrocities emerged: Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported that the militants were seeking out and sometimes killing anyone associated with the government; ISIS publicized evidence of one mass atrocity, claiming it had slaughtered 1,700 prisoners; in Mosul, ISIS murdered the city’s religious leadership and established itself as the religious law. Throughout this time, it was reported that ISIS was forcibly converting civilians by threatening to impose a religious tax or execute those who did not. Some of those who did convert were immediately beheaded afterwards. Things came to a head in August, when ISIS closed in on Yazidis in northwestern Iraq. The jihadists threatened to kill those who refused to convert to Islam, causing a mass exodus. Perched precariously in the highlands of Sinjar, with no food or access to water, the Yazidis faced a serious humanitarian emergency at best–and potentially genocide. (…)
This US action to help protect Iraq’s civilians from ISIS sits squarely under pillar two of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which relates to the international community’s responsibility to assist states to fulfill their responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. The use of force comes in response to a specific request for assistance from a member state—helping a state fulfill its R2P (as mentioned in paragraph 138 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome on R2P) and assisting a state under stress (paragraph 139 of the same agreement).
Although “assistance” to the state is usually conceived in non-military terms, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained clearly in his 2009 report on R2P that assistance could include the use of force with the consent of the state concerned. As the Secretary-General put it, “pillar two could also encompass military assistance to help beleaguered States deal with armed non-state actors threatening both the State and its population" (para. 29). Further, “…international military assistance may be the surest way to support the State in meeting its obligations relating to the responsibility to protect and, in extreme cases, to restore its effective sovereignty” (para. 43). (…)
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