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Middle East Times
Robert Murray and David Kilgour
5 January 2009

Robert Murray is a Department of Political Science Doctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta, while David Kilgour is a former Canadian Secretary of State for Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific.

Recently there has been plenty of attention given to the issue of humanitarian crisis, intervention and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at the global level. The R2P, which was originally articulated in 2001 by a commission created and supported by the government of Canada, is designed to articulate and enforce what terms like sovereignty, human security and global responsibility actually mean and just how short the international community has fallen in its efforts to protect vulnerable populations worldwide. ()
The current situations in the Darfur province of Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and elsewhere effectively demonstrate the human insecurity which continues to plague international society. Canada has admonished these governments for their abuse of human rights, as has the United Nations. Each of these nations are in desperate need of global attention and perhaps even intervention according to the stipulations of the R2P, as included in the 2001 report and the 2005 U.N. document, yet the United Nations has elected instead to place its weight and limited financial resources behind regional organizations, like the African Union, or is sending diplomats to urge change, knowing that none will come.
From the knowledge that genocide and human rights abuses have occurred since 1945, and transpire to this present, there is a fact that is very clear the United Nations, and Canada, are not willing to make the normative shift necessary to operationalize the R2P and enforce human security. Invoking arguments about national and international obligations is not merely an ethical issue. Prof. Marco Sassoli and Dr. Siobhan Wills have pointed out that R2P represents a fundamental change from states choosing intervention, to states having the responsibility under international law to prevent egregious human rights violations. This legal argument emphasizes that R2P is intended to remind and encourage states to live up to their responsibilities rather than have the most powerful nations select when and where humanitarian law will be enforced.
It is difficult to argue against the need for normatively driven policy like R2P on the basis of protecting humanity, but why is it that we still have not seen a shift from nations like Canada or from the United Nations? A major concern that tends to be overlooked in these discussions is the threat to international order and the system of states posed by ethically responsible policies. ()
Finally enforcement of any such ethic is virtually impossible and undesirable due to the long-term implications of intervention and peacebuilding, evidenced by the increasing displeasure among Canadian politicians and citizens alike regarding the mission in Afghanistan. As a result of these factors, along with a number of others, the R2P has remained purely rhetorical in nature in favor of states basing their national security decisions upon traditional, power-based, concerns.
There is also need to consider what happens if R2P is never practiced. Ignatieff reminds us that the desire for humanitarian intervention still exists, but the resources needed for such missions have dissipated. When policies like the R2P get ignored, it is not a series of abstract political concerns which get forgotten; instead, we see the consequences of not acting on R2P in the daily statistics released which tell the sad story of death, injury and terror among populations from various regions across the world. ()
While the end of the Cold War may have brought with it a sense of idealism and opportunity in the humanitarian intervention debate, reality dictates that in order for states to maintain or increase their position in the international system, they cannot base their foreign policy strategies on concepts like human security. To do so would require a global consensus and international willingness to implement the normative elements of the R2P. At present, this is simply not the case and thus humanity will continue to suffer while the international community does nothing.


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