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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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Working paper series - Preventing Mass Atrocity Crimes: The Responsibility to Protect and the Syria Crisis
Paul R. Williams (American University – Washington College of Law), Trevor Ulbrick, Jonathan Worboys
Available on Social Science Research Network
1 November 2012
The Responsibility to Protect (“R2P”) is a complicated and “evolving norm” of international law that seeks to provide a means for the international community to prevent mass atrocity crimes occurring within the boundaries of a sovereign state. Since its emergence in 2001, in the wake of humanitarian tragedies in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur, R2P has been hailed as a means to deal with what one commentator called the “problem from hell.” Under R2P, however, the use of force is reserved for actions within the UN Charter’s Chapter VII framework. As has been highlighted by the Syria crisis, this position continues to hinder efforts by the international community to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.

In view of the Syria crisis, this article argues that when peaceful measures have been exhausted and the Security Council is deadlocked, R2P’s third pillar should allow the use of only those low intensity military options, such as no-fly zones and humanitarian safe havens, that are focused on protecting populations. This approach would advance R2P’s development by establishing specific criteria that allow for the limited use of force when the Security Council fails to act. In doing so, R2P will be able to fulfill its primary purpose of preventing mass atrocities within a sovereign state, thus preventing future tragedies similar to those that have been seen in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and now Syria. (…)
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