R2P
October 14, 2007

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27-year old Executive Director of the Genocide Intervention Network Mark Hanis recently started off a discussion about genocide with 400 college students by saying, “R2P rocks my world and I hope it’ll rock yours too.” R2P is the common abbreviation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine which states that when a government is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, the international community must take responsibility. This doctrine is unique in that it calls for the untouchable international relations principle of non-interference to yield to the principle of responsibility to act. R2P acknowledges that the primary responsibility of protecting a state’s people lies within that sovereign state. But if that state is unwilling or unable to protect its civilians from serious large-scale harm, it becomes the responsibility of the international community to act. Although R2P has only recently and imperfectly been accepted by member nations at the UN World Summit in 2005, the doctrine has redefined sovereignty.

R2P advocates working through peaceful means to protect citizens. Non-peaceful measures may be necessary on an ad-hoc basis, but only after considering the 6 principles of military intervention outline by the doctrine. For example, there must be a “just cause” to intervene—defined as large scale loss of life with genocidal intent or not—and the “intention” to intervene must be purely motivated by the goals of halting or averting human suffering. Military intervention should only be used as a last resort, according to the principles, and only when there is a reasonable prospect for success.

R2P is not perfect. Realistically states are not going to act to protect civilians half way around the world simply because of a new legal definition of sovereignty or another international convention on genocide. But R2P remains important in that is sets a new norm. Sates generally act for 2 reasons: geo-political interests like oil or, because their citizens demand action. Establishing legal norms like R2P are crucial. Without such standards citizen voices often float aimlessly in a vacuum. But with them, citizens can push their governments to take actions based upon a set of accepted norms, principles, and standards.

R2P moves beyond addressing every international crisis on an ad-hoc basis and establishes a norm of responsibility to act in the face of any genocide, war crime, instance of ethnic cleansing or crime against humanity. Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power once wrote that, “It is [unfortunately] within the realm of domestic politics that the battle to stop genocide is lost.” Fostering real change in human rights policy takes domestic pressure from a constituency that cares. Citizens armed with knowledge and a belief in ending crimes against humanity are the missing link to holding elected officials accountable to their responsibility to act.

Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept this responsibility and will act in accordance with it… (¶ 138).
Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the United Nation’s 2005 World Summit Outcome on the Responsibility to Protect doctrine

A few ways to have a hand in stopping genocide by becoming an involved citizen:

  • Create a YouTube video for the upcoming Republican Presidential Debates on November 28th asking about Darfur. Did you know that in seven Republican presidential debates, the candidates have been asked about Darfur only once? That’s one question out of 247. Submit your question about Darfur today.
  • Divesting your own mutual funds, investments, and pensions from companies supporting Sudan and the junta in Burma. Then pressure your state government officials to do the same. Learn more from the Sudan Divestment Task Force.
  • Calling 1-800-GENOCIDE to pressure your senator or rep. Just call the number and you can receive talking points and then be connected to your congressperson. I was nervous because I hate talking on the phone, but my first time was really easy because it gives you ideas on what to say. Our government is putting on a repeat performance from Rwanda by dragging its feet on releasing funding and supplies for the UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur. Put on the pressure!

If you are in DC this coming Sunday, Mary Jo and I are holding a Bake-Off for Darfur to raise money for and awareness about the genocide.

Responsibility to Protect,
Katie