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Responsibility to Protect

It feels wrong to watch the news about Syria and the Central African Republic night after night without seeing any effective international action being taken to stop the killing, displacement and rape. After millions of civilians were killed in the Second World War, the United Nations was set up specifically “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. So why doesn’t it? Hugo Slim investigates the current state of international politics regarding the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire. Over Christmas I visited Boston and had the occasion to walk the famous freedom trail: 3 miles of sights commemorating American independence. As I walked this hallowed ground I pondered on those fighting for freedom today, in the streets of Cairo, Homs and Tunis. Having met some of these people, I wondered at the suspicion we direct at the Islamic parties now gaining power, as if we forgot our own history. American democracy was born of Puritan principles of self-government, but that did not prevent it from evolving into the (more or less) secular body it is today.  Ignoring this …

The Iraq war was not a success. It was a failure. A dismal failure, and Western governments should learn from their mistakes. Of course, nobody can deny the brutal crimes that Saddam Hussein was responsible for. The savage attacks against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq, the invasion of Kuwait and the terrorising of innocent civilians in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt serve as prime examples of the sadistic nature of the Iraqi dictator. The world is definitely safer without him, but this in no way outweighs what the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, have had to give up. Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perception Index (measured in 2010) ranked Iraq as having 175th most …

At the 2005 UN World Summit, more than 170 Heads of State and Government accepted three interlinked responsibilities, which together constitute the principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). First, States accepted the responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Second, States promised to assist each other in fulfilling their domestic protection responsibilities. And third, the international community took on a collective responsibility to react, in a timely and decisive manner, if particular States are manifestly failing to protect their populations from the abovementioned mass atrocity crimes. Despite a quite remarkable normative development (see for example the frequent invocation of R2P in relation to the recent Libya crisis), this R2P principle is …

https://blog.politics.ox.ac.uk/podcast-player/1640/the-responsibility-to-protect-the-imperative-and-the-challenge.mp3Download file | Play in new windowAt the University of Oxford Alumni Weekend, 17 September 2011, Dr Hugo Slim and Professor Jennifer Welsh, from the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC), discussed the concept of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or R2P in contemporary international relations, and its role in key cases such as Libya and post-election violence in Kenya. Dr Slim discussed the rise of the idea that certain people should be protected in times of war, suggesting that the word ‘civilian’ became a centrepiece of policy during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. He went on to talk about the role and types of ideology that encourage violence against civilians during conflict. Anti-civilian ideology, or the idea that a whole group of …

In the past couple of days, Germany and Canada have joined the group of countries that have declared that they consider the National Transitional Council (NTC) in to be the “legitimate representative” of the Libyan people. But what exactly does this mean? According to the BBC, the group of countries extending this recognition includes France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Gambia, Senegal and Australia. Russia and the United States have had meetings with the NTC and have also made similar declarations about the illegitimacy of the Gaddafi regime and about the legitimacy of the NTC (see previous post by Stefan Talmon on the US position in March). What are the legal implications, if any, of these …

Everyone wants to see wrongdoers punished. But safe exile for bad rulers is often the least worst option. The violence in the Ivory Coast that has left more than 1,300 dead since last November’s presidential election may soon be coming to an end. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to cede power after losing in the polls to Alassane Ouattara, is reportedly negotiating the terms of his surrender after a week-long offensive by pro-Ouattara forces. What’s puzzling about how this conflict is ending is why Gbagbo didn’t leave sooner, especially after African Union leaders had offered him immunity several times if he agreed to go into exile in South Africa. With 80% of Ivorian territory taken by pro-Ouattara forces and …

In his post of 30/03/11, Marko notes the debate surrounding whether the Coalition now taking military action in Libya can arm the rebels fighting in that country. This question is perhaps part of a broader question of whether the coalition can provide other military aid to the rebels, for example, by providing close air support for rebel advances into towns under the control of Col Gaddafi’s forces. As Marko notes, while the US and UK  have both denied that they have made a decision to provide arms to the rebels (see here and here), they have both argued that providing arms to the rebels would not be a breach of the arms embargo imposed by Security Council Resolution 1970. In fact media reports today …