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
primarilyabout external military action.
The Responsibility to Protect was unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the 2005UN World Summit.
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.
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
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001),
The Responsibility to Protect,
Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.