|IPI Global Observatory: The RtoP Principle is Not the Problem: Interview with Jennifer Welsh|
The Responsibility to Protect Principle is Not the Problem: Interview with Jennifer Welsh
IPI Global Observatory
11 December 2013
Why hasn’t the principle adopted by the United Nations in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing—known as the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP)—helped to stop the war crimes in Syria?
"The principle itself is not the problem," said Jennifer Welsh, the UN Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).
While acknowledging the "broad-based failure" to address Syria’s crisis, Welsh explained that "states aren't necessarily contending that there isn't an international responsibility to act, but they wonder whether force is appropriate, and particularly whether force will achieve good."
Reflecting on the Security Council's division over action in Syria and the sometimes selective use of force in the past, Welsh explored the dynamics at play when it comes to intervention. "We do know that certain bodies and certain instruments will not be able to act consistently," she said. "And indeed, if you look at the summit outcome document in 2005, it talks about the use of military force being undertaken on a case-by-case basis."
"I think strategic interests are often at play; that doesn't mean other motives also aren't present," she said, noting that prudence is also part of these decisions, whether interests are at stake or not. "I think a lot of the concern over Syria expressed not just by the Russians, but by others was: would force actually accomplish positive things on the ground? Is it a prudent course of action at this point in time? And you can have reasonable disagreement."
However, she noted that the Security Council can damage its standing when it can’t come to a consensus on action. "And those considerations need to be taken into account, and so their pressure can be brought to bear on that institution to keep that in mind."
While many discussions of RtoP and its three pillars center on the circumstances under which the international community should intervene, it is the second pillar, said Welsh, that is its most promising aspect because it "is about international actors working in partnership with states, and emphasizing that the Responsibility to Protect, at the end of the day, is not designed to be undermining of sovereignty, but supportive of sovereignty, to help states exercise their responsibilities to protect their populations—because they are the best placed agents to do that if they are able to."
Considering the changing nature of violence on a global scale and the greater focus on criminal violence and other forms of civil strife, Welsh said that the Responsibility to Protect is not limited to situations of armed conflict. “We have to look at those situations, not necessarily as ones that call for third pillar action, but perhaps other forms of engagement. And I think what's really interesting in this respect is to look at how some humanitarian organizations are beginning to become involved, like the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], in these situations other than armed conflict. I think that's a very interesting trend, which suggests there is a recognition that protection is important, even outside the context of armed conflict.”
Read and/or listen to the interview here.