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Responsibility to Protect

Responsibility to Protect

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Published by Oxfam
The Responsibility to Protect was unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 UN World Summit. It confirmed that individual states have the primary Responsibly to Protect their own populations against genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It agreed that ‘the international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help states to exercise this responsibility’, and that when a state is not willing or able to do so, that the international community has the responsibility to act. This agreement was firmly built upon governments’ existing responsibilities under the Universal Declaration of Universal Human Rights, and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. All High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions already had the obligation to help ensure respect for the Conventions around the world.
The Responsibility to Protect was unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 UN World Summit. It confirmed that individual states have the primary Responsibly to Protect their own populations against genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It agreed that ‘the international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help states to exercise this responsibility’, and that when a state is not willing or able to do so, that the international community has the responsibility to act. This agreement was firmly built upon governments’ existing responsibilities under the Universal Declaration of Universal Human Rights, and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. All High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions already had the obligation to help ensure respect for the Conventions around the world.

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Published by: Oxfam on Apr 12, 2011
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02/08/2013

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July 2008 
OI Policy Compendium Note on the Responsibility to Protect
 
Overview: Oxfam International’s position on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
Oxfam International (OI) warmly welcomed the agreement at the UN World Summit in 2005 thatall governments had the Responsibility to Protect civilian populations from genocide, ethniccleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now it is vitally urgent that all governmentsuphold this agreement in practical policies that help to prevent and halt mass atrocities, andrebuild societies shattered by conflict to prevent mass atrocities every being committed again.This is primarily the responsibility of individual states. Where they need support or fail, theinternational community shares that responsibilility. It is crucial that governments and theinternational community uphold their Responsibility to Protect through:
Taking appropriate action to protect civilians in the world’s current conflicts where they arethreatened by genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.Successful action to prevent and stop mass atrocities is the single most important way tobuild up the norm that governments will consistently do so in future.
Building the capacity to uphold that Responsibility to Protect in governments, regionalorganisations and international institutions, primarily through civilian instruments, andincluding substantially greater support from rich countries for that capacity in Southerngovernments and regional organisations.
Demonstrating in their actions and statements that R2P is about preventing as much asending mass atrocities, and helping to rebuild post-conflict societies to prevent furtheratrocities in the future. It is primarily about supporting national governments to do this. Itrequires far greater use of new and existing tools for conflict prevention. It is
not
primarilyabout external military action.
1. Background
The Responsibility to Protect was unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the 2005UN World Summit.
1
It confirmed that individual states have the primary Responsibly to Protect theirown populations against genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Itagreed that ‘the international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help states toexercise this responsibility’, and that when a state is not willing or able to do so, that the internationalcommunity has the responsibility to act. This agreement was firmly built upon governments’ existingresponsibilities under the Universal Declaration of Universal Human Rights, and the 1949 GenevaConventions. All High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions already had the obligation tohelp ensure respect for the Conventions around the world.Conceptually, the Responsibility to Protect is a vital framework to focus on the rights of all people, andthe responsibilities of all states and, secondly, the international community. It was developed as aresponse to the catastrophic failure of the international community to help prevent genocide and othermass atrocities in Rwanda and elsewhere in the 1990s. It was first proposed in 2001 by anInternational Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), led by Algerian andAustralian states-people, and supported by Canada.
2
Its report was not a charter to intervene, but acharter of civilians’ rights, restating by and large the responsibilities already held by states. It set
1
UN General Assembly Resolution (2005), A/RES/60/1 ‘Final Document of the World Summit 2005’,(paragraphs 138-139), available at:www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=A/RES/60/1(accessedJuly 2 2008)1
2
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001),
The Responsibility to Protect,
Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.
 
July 2008 
military action as a small and exceptional tool in limited circumstances. It placed far greater emphasison peaceful means to: 1) prevent mass atrocities; 2) react to them and stop them; and 3) help rebuildsocieties afterwards so that mass atrocities would never occur again.The original ICISS report represented the same solidarity with those suffering in conflicts that theAfrican Union (AU) set out in 2000 when it proclaimed its ‘non-indifference’ to genocide and othermass atrocities. In 2005, African governments were the most important group proposing R2P as acommitment of solidarity with those suffering from those crimes in Africa and elsewhere.Since 2005, most governments have been slow to turn the World Summit agreement into practicalchanges of policy to prevent and stop mass atrocities, and rebuild post-conflict societies afterwards.Some positive steps have been taken, including the appointment of UN Special Advisers for thePrevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, Conflict Prevention and Resolution, and theResponsibility to Protect; and in 2008 the creation of the Global Centre for the Responsibility toProtect
3
and steps towards the creation of an NGO Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.
4
Butthe overriding need remains to secure greater commitment from all governments to the norm and totranslate the World Summit’s words into more effective action.
2. Oxfam International’s position on the Responsibility to Protect
Governments have the responsibility to act not only to halt crimes that are already taking place, butalso to prevent them, and help rebuild societies to prevent future atrocities. They should usediplomatic, economic, legal and political strategies. Upholding R2P sometimes requires UN-mandatedpeace support operations, and one of governments’ greatest failures in upholding R2P is to properlyresource UN and UN-mandated (including African Union) peace support operations. Upholding R2Pwill
not 
require any other form of military action without the consent of the relevant nationalgovernment, except in extremely rare circumstances.To turn R2P from words into action, governments should:
Act effectively to prevent and halt atrocities
Build the capacity to act, and support national governments and regional organisations to doso, focusing predominantly on civilian capacities
Make clear, in their actions and statements, that R2P is about preventing and, if that fails,acting to stop atrocities through a range of peaceful actions, and supporting nationalgovernments to do so. More generous support for UN and UN-mandated peace supportoperations is part of the solution, but any other form of military action will be a veryexceptional last resort.
2.1. Preventing mass atrocities
now 
R2P represents an important addition to a broad range of tools that all actors – from the UN,Governments, international and national civil society and down to individuals – have at their disposaland must apply to ensure security, respect for human rights, and the protection of civilians fromviolence, deprivation and coercion. If appropriately used, R2P can contribute to increasing effectiveaction to protect civilians from the worst abuses, encouraging governments to take the necessary andtimely steps to prevent and respond to all those cases where civilians are threatened by the crimeslisted by the UN World Summit.Successful action to protect civilians – carried out first and foremost by national governments, with thesupport of the international community – is the single most important thing to build up the norm thatgovernments will consistently uphold their R2P in the future. (Please seewww.oxfam.orgfor OxfamInternational’s latest briefing notes on protecting civilians in different current crises.)Military action is a very small part of the overall ‘tool kit’ of policies to uphold R2P. Nevertheless, theinevitable controversy over military action means that it is essential to set out clear principles of whennon-consensual force should and should not be authorised to prevent mass atrocities, a last resortonly to be used when it can meet all of the 5 principle Kofi Annan proposed to the UN Security
3
See:www.globalcentrer2p.org. Oxfam International participates on the Advisory Board of the GlobalCentre for the Responsibility to Protect.
4
 
July 2008 
Council in 2005: just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, and the reasonableprospect of success: that the consequences of military action will be better than inaction.UN Security Council permanent members should agree to renounce the use of their vetoes in theexceptional cases when those principles could be met to avoid unacceptable delays or obstacles inauthorising action. If they do not, they are likely to hear increased calls, like those made by the ICISSto consider alternative means, such the UN General Assembly deciding on such action based on the“Uniting for Peace” resolution of 1950; or the Security Council
ex 
 
post facto 
authorising action byregional organizations (rather than the prior authorisation required by Article 53 of the UN Charter).Though it seems politically unrealistic to expect the Security Council or General Assembly to agree onprinciples for the use of force in the near future, Kofi Annan’s 2005 proposition remains eminentlysensible:
The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority but to make it work better. When considering whether to authorize or endorse the use of military force, the Council should come to a common view on how to weigh the seriousness of the threat; the proper purpose of the proposed military action; whether means short of the use of force might plausibly succeed in stopping the threat; whether the military option is proportional to the threat at hand; and whether there is a reasonable chance of success.By undertaking to make the case for military action in this way, the Council would add transparency to its deliberations and make its decisions more likely to be respected, by both Governments and world public opinion. I therefore recommend that the Security Council adopt a resolution setting out these principles and expressing its intention to be guided by them when deciding whether to authorize or mandate the use of force.
 
2.2 Emphasising prevention and support
Far more than military action, upholding R2P requires governments, and the international communityas a whole, to vigorously use new and existing instruments to prevent atrocities from occurring: earlywarning systems, mediation, economic sanctions, observer missions, and political pressure to complywith international human rights and humanitarian law, and promote the peaceful resolution ofdisputes. The ICISS report provided a summary of action to prevent mass atrocities, which is stillvalid. Governments can help prevent atrocities by:
… ensuring fair treatment and fair opportunities for all citizens... Efforts to ensure accountability and good governance, protect human rights, promote social and economic development and ensure a fair distribution of resources point toward the necessary means…Moreover, for prevention to succeed, strong support from the international community is often needed, and in many cases may be indispensable. Such support may take many forms. It may come in the form of development assistance and other efforts to help address the root cause of potential conflict; or efforts to provide support for local initiatives to advance good governance, human rights, or the rule of law; or good offices missions, mediation efforts and other efforts to promote dialogue or reconciliation. In some cases international support for prevention efforts may take the form of inducements; in others, it may involve a willingness to apply tough and perhaps even punitive measures.
It is also impossible to prevent mass atrocites without curbing the flow of arms and ammuntion tothose who commit them. Governments should agree and enforce legally-binding agreements atnational, regional and global levels to prevent irresponsible arms transfers where they are likely to beused for gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of InternationalHumanitarian Law or undermine sustainable development.
2.3 Building capacity to do more in the future
In some cases, the only thing stopping governments protecting civilians is their will to do so. Manygovernments, regional organisations and the UN have a range of policy tools at their disposal, which3
5
Annan, K (2005), ‘In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All’,Report of the UN Secretary-General, Para 126,http://www.un.org/largerfreedom/chap3.htm (accessed 2 May 2008).

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