The Responsibility to Protect: Four Challenges on the Road Ahead

Dr. Adrian Gallagher, University of Leeds, Convenor BISA Working Group on Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect

I would like to say congratulations to the R2P Student Coalition here at the University of Leeds. Three years ago, Professor Jason Ralph and I designed a third year module PIED3502 The Responsibility to Protect and Prosecute and it is fantastic to see this has galvanised such interest amongst students. Since then the teaching team has expanded to include Dr. Cristina Stefan (formerly Badescu) and Dr. James Souter which reflects an increasing number of staff including Professors Edward Newman and Graeme Davies that focus on the R2P and related issues. Juxtaposed with this has been somewhat of a ‘bottom up’ R2P movement that has arisen with a dedicated team of intelligent, professional students establishing the Student Coalition. The latest instalment of their efforts is this exciting journal, co-founded with Dominique Fraser, and I would like to take this opportunity to also thank Professor Alex Bellamy for writing the introduction to the first issue. Hopefully, both the Coalition and the Journal can grow from strength to strength and as its founder, Georgiana Epure, departs for pastures new, we are fortunate that two of our current undergraduate cohort – Blake Lawrinson and Luke Bullock – who are to start MA programmes here at Leeds in September 2016.

The second issue provides an apt moment to consider the key issues, questions, and challenges that will face the Responsibility to Protect in the second decade since the World Summit Outcome in 2005. The purpose here is not to provide answers as such but instead to raise questions, issues and concerns facing the R2P in the 21st century. The reason for this is that because this is a student-led journal, I thought I would take this opportunity to identify four research agendas where future MA and Ph.D. students can contribute something significant, timely, and rigorous on the discourse.

  1. Climate Change and Mass Violence

The relationship between climate change, environmental factors, and mass violence remains overlooked and undertheorised. At first, it may seem somewhat odd to suggest that there could in fact be a relationship between climate and violence, yet further consideration begins to reveal existing relationships in historical examples as well as the potential for an increasing level of such violence in the 21st century. In 2009, former President of the International Network of Genocide Scholars, Juergen Zimmerer, held an inter-disciplinary conference at the University of Sheffield to discuss this topic. Six years on, Zimmerer published an edited volume Climate Change and Genocide Environmental Violence in the 21st Century in which it is claimed ‘environmental violence, including resource crises such as peak fossil fuel, will lie at the heart of future conflicts’.

With this in mind, it underpins a broader call for action in order to pre-empt the exacerbation of such violence in the 21st century. Within the context of International Relations, scholars such as Ken Booth[1] have placed the threat posed by climate change within ‘the great reckoning’ of the 21st century. Meanwhile, prominent analysts such as Naomi Klein[2] put forward a somewhat apocalyptic vision which, if accurate, provides a fertile foundation for mass violence. As it stands, the problem facing the R2P is that for all the talk of encouraging and helping states to fulfil their R2P there is quite simply no blue print for how international society can and should respond to the potentially civilization changing relationship between climate change and violence.

  1. A New United Nations Secretary General (UNSG)

The power of the UNSG has been well documented over the years. In relation to mass violence, it is clear that Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon have played pivotal roles in both establishing and facilitating the R2P. Evidently shaped by his personal experiences in relation to the Rwandan genocide, Annan facilitated the R2P through his UN High Level Panel and established the first Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide in 2004.[3] Putting the efforts of Annan in context, Roméo Dallaire stated that Annan is ‘genuine to the core’ and ‘dedicated to the founding principles of the UN and tireless in his efforts to save the organisation from itself.’[4] A part of which was making sure the R2P initiative did not die out in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War. The R2P-baton, if you will, was then passed onto Ban Ki-moon who has become a leading advocate of the R2P at the international level. Since 2009, he has released an annual R2P report which facilitated an informal interactive dialogue at the UN General Assembly as well as establishing a joint Office of the Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and the R2P. All this effort begs the question, what next? Of course, only time will tell but whatever happens, the prominence of the R2P at the international level will undoubtedly be shaped by the new UNSG’s view of it. Furthermore, this calls for more research not just into how the UN facilitates ideas (as Thomas Weiss has written on[5]), but also the specific relationship between UNSGs and particular ideas and norms.

  1. Changing Power Balances

The R2P was born in an era of liberal imperialism. The key issue then is the extent to which changing power balances at the international level will shape the acceptance and resistance toward the R2P. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have been identified as key players but critically they do not speak with a unified voice as is often portrayed in the discourse. South Africa has been more comfortable with the R2P, yet criticised for flip flopping on Libya. India and Brazil continue to hold reservations about the use of force, with Brazil expressing concerns over pillar II actions – when the host state requests military assistance. China and Russia, of course, hold veto membership and continue to heavily influence the implementation of the R2P at the UN Security Council as witnessed by the division over Syria. Unable to go into all these issues here, I would point future researchers toward three special issues. To explain, in November 2013, the ESRC funded a 9 part-seminar series addressing this issue. The organisers Jason Ralph (University of Leeds), Aidan Hehir (University of Westminster), James Pattison (University of Manchester) and Adrian Gallagher (University of Leeds) went onto to publish three special issues related to this theme in 2015: Cooperation and Conflict, Criminal Law Forum and Global Responsibility to Protect.

  1. The Rise of Non-State Armed Groups

The 20th century was plagued by mass violence committed by governments. Sadly, they were very good at it and the perpetrators often got away with it. In his seminal study, Death by Government, R. J. Rummell calculated that 169,198,000 million were killed by their own government between 1900 and 1987, which he labelled as ‘democide’. Historically then, we have tended to theorise and conceptualise mass violence as a state crime precisely because states have the power to conduct mass killing. Yet, the rise of non-state actors and, in particular, more powerful non-state actors in the 21st century is changing the nature of mass violence. Although it is highly doubtful that groups such as DAESH, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and the Haqqani Network, will manage to destroy millions of people (unless they acquire weapons of mass destruction capability at some point in the future), they often display a clear intent to destroy groups. For example, earlier this year, in May 2016, the UK House of Commons, The US Congress, and The European Parliament have all declared that the DAESH are conducting genocide against the Yazidi community. Such actions would correlate with what Leo Kuper labelled as ‘genocidal massacres’ in his pioneering text Genocide: Its Political Use in the 20th Century.[6] As I have argued elsewhere, within the R2P framework, pillar II holds the most promise as states can assist other states to address the threat posed by non-state armed groups.[7] Yet, clearly more research is needed as we investigate the strengths and limitations of pillar II as well as its relationship with other norms such as the anti-terror norm in the future.

Overall, it would seem that mass violence will be a feature of the 21st century. In response, researchers have a responsibility to conduct significant, original, and rigorous studies that can help explain both its causes and responses. Good luck.

[1] See Booth, K. 2007. Theory of World Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[2] See Klein, N. 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, London: Allen Lane

[3] See UNSC RES. S/2004/567

[4] See Dallaire, R. 2003. Shake Hands with the DevilThe Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Toronto: Random House Canada

[5] Weiss, T.  ‘How United Nations Ideas Changed History’, Review of International Studies36, Supplement S1, (October) pp. 3-23

[6] See Kuper, L. 1982. Genocide: Its Politics Use in the Twentieth Century, London: Yale University Press

[7] See Gallagher, A. 2015. ‘The Promise of Pillar II: Analysing International Assistance Under The Responsibility to Protect’, International Affairs, 91(6), pp.1259–1275

Gender Identity, Gender Based Violence, and the Responsibility to Protect

Tommaso Trillò, The University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Tommaso is currently serving as Junior Researcher at the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities. He holds an MSc in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA in Political Sciences from the John Cabot University.

Over the last few decades, attention to gender issues has consistently grown in virtually all fields, from economics to anthropology, from public policy to humanitarian intervention. Despite expanding popularity, however, “gender” remains a rather marginalized area of study. As a matter of fact, “gender” is often treated as a “something to do on the side” of other initiatives, most of the time depending on the availability of residual funding after “more relevant” issues have been addressed. The mass atrocity prevention community is not immune from this dynamic. Despite a verbal commitment to the mainstreaming of gender issues as key elements of concern, gender-related projects remain relatively underfunded and marginalized.

Arguably, the study of gender and the implementation of gender-related policies and initiatives should be a more prominent priority in the agenda of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners working in the field of the responsibility to Protect (R2P). Attention to gender based violence (GBV) in time of conflict recently exploded, especially after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. However, as the title of the resolution explicitly suggests, the focus of GBV has mostly been on forms of violence specifically experienced by women. While the term “gender” should include both biological sexes, the equation of gender issues with women’s issues de fact creates pockets of exclusion from protection of male victims of some very specific forms of GBV. As a matter of fact, these forms of violence are often unreported, understudied, and at times lack recognition as actual violence amounting to torture or persecution.

In light of the above, this essay wishes to be a thought-provoking piece with the following as objectives. Firstly, gender should be recognized by the R2P community as a social category that is as meaningful as race, nationality, and ethnicity. Accordingly, gender should be studied and considered as a key element in the perpetration of violence. Secondly, the equation of “gender” with “women” should be abandoned because it is detrimental to the achievement of full protection needs for specific groups currently neglected, including male victims of GBV. Thirdly, neither of the two biological sexes should enjoy better protection under the framework of “gender”. Rather, both groups should be recognized as having gender-specific protection needs and therefore be the object of specific protection policies and actions. Finally, this paper wishes to argue that the international community already possesses the tools in order to offer full protection to people facing GBV through the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the concept of R2P, despite the relative weaknesses of both instruments. Achievement of protection is thus a matter of efficiency at all levels, and partially depends on change at the discursive level to increase commitment and reduce pockets of exclusion.

Analysis will be carried out as follows. Firstly, I will offer an interpretation of the concept of “gender” that draws on Foucault’s notion of discourse, Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, and Connell’s notion of hegemonic masculinity. Secondly, I will define gender based violence (GBV) in time of conflict and outline its path towards recognition as a matter of international concern. Thirdly, I will outline the opportunities for protection available to the international community under the Refugee Convention and under the R2P. Finally, I will make some recommendations.

Gender as a Social Structure

A short and powerful definition of “gender” has been advanced by Mahler and Pessar (2006), scholars in migration studies, in the context of their effort for the mainstreaming of gender as a legitimate object of study for migration scholarship. In their definition, gender is “the meaning that people give to the biological reality that there are two sexes” (Mahler and Pessar, 2006, p. 29). Gender refers to a social construction resulting from power dynamics between men and women and the effects of these dynamics on identity, social roles, responsibilities, and social status. Drawing from Foucault’s (1972) notion of “discursive formation” (or “discourse”), gender can be understood as a system of ideas, beliefs, utterances, and practices that systematically works to produce and reproduce the idea that two objects (men and women) are inherently different and, accordingly, should occupy different social positions. In Crawley’s words, gender refers to “the social organization of sexual difference” (Crawley, 2001, p. 7).

While Foucault’s notion of discourse is a rather useful theoretical lens to understand gender, Gramsci’s notion of hegemony can be more useful to understand how discourses about gender are produced, reproduced, and reshaped in a process that involves agency by all social actors involved (Fairclough, 1992, p. 56). Foucault tends to over emphasize the extent to which people are influenced by power, leaving little or no room for agency beyond the reproduction of existing structures. Gramsci portrays a much more unstable equilibrium that is highly dependent upon alliances between different groups and the production of consent from subordinate classes. This unstable equilibrium is the ground for constant struggle, where structures are constantly renegotiated (Fairclough, 1992, pp. 56-58).

Gramsci theorises hegemony as the power of a class over society as a whole. This dominance, however, is never fully achieved, and can only be maintained by forming alliances, making concessions, and most importantly developing ideological means to ensure the integration of subordinated classes into the hegemonic project (Fairclough, 1989, pp. 61-62). In other words, hegemony is the exercise of power through acquiescence rather than through coercion. A fundamental element in the exercise of power through hegemony is ideology. According to Gramsci, ideology is “a conception of the world” that is implicitly manifest in the ways in which people conduct themselves individually and collectively (Gramsci, 1971, as cited in Fairclough, 1989, p. 62). Ideology works to perpetrate hegemony by producing discourses that represent the world in a given way and by inculcating this discourses as ways of being (Fairclough, 1985, p. 28). Usually, ideological discourses manage to increase their currency and to undermine the validity of other discourses by presenting themselves as the natural order of things. If successful, ideological discourses are eventually picked up by subordinate actors that uncritically accept them as “common sense” (Gramsci, 1971).

Gramsci’s notions of hegemony and common sense have been picked up by Connell (1995) as the basis for the influential concept of “hegemonic masculinity”. Connell theorizes hegemonic masculinity as a system of beliefs that supports, reinforces, and legitimizes a patriarchal order of society that serves the interests of the dominant group (that is, cisgender men). Connell further argues that all members of society are to some extent complicit in the perpetuation of hegemonic masculinity. Among other ideologies, hegemonic masculinity produces normative ideas regarding what it means to be a man (and to be a woman) that are eventually internalized and reproduced by all members of society. One of the key insights of Connell is the realization that masculinity (like femininity) is not monolithic, but significantly fragmented. Different gendered identities arise from the intersection of gender with other social structures (such as class, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.).

Gender is, therefore, an ideological discursive formation (Fairclough, 1989) that is produced as the result of power dynamics between different masculine and feminine identities in any given society. Its underlying ideology is reproduced through discursive practices and according to the normative ideas produced by hegemonic masculinity. Through ideology, hegemonic masculinity is capable of spreading normative ideas regarding what is the appropriate way of being a man (or to be a woman). As these norms gain currency, those more closely adhering to them enjoy privilege, while those that do not or cannot conform are ostracized. For example, if the proper way of being a man is to be white, middle class, and heterosexual, other ways of being a man will be treated as deviant and therefore marginalized.

Gender Based Violence and its Troubled Way to Recognition

Despite the fact that there has hardly ever been a war with no GBV, gender issues in time of conflict have been remarkably absent from discussion until quite recently. For much of modern history, it was widely held that GBV during conflicts resulted from random incidents of frustration and violence caused by individuals. Even more problematically perhaps, GBV has been treated invariably as the violence of men on women, and as the violation of the property rights of a group of men by another group of men. In other words, perpetrating violence against women in time of war was not seen as a violation of the human rights of the women themselves, but rather as the violation of male property rights upon them. Furthermore, the possibility of men being objects of GBV was completely excluded from the discussion, and still today remains a particularly under-studied and under-regulated issue. Throughout the twentieth century, GBV has moved from almost complete irrelevance to full recognition as a human rights issue and eventually as a threat to international peace and security (Carpenter, 2006).

Gender based violence can be defined as “any harm that is perpetrated against a person’s will; that has a negative impact on the physical or psychological health, development and identity of the person, and that is the result of gendered power inequities that exploit distinctions between males and females, among males, and among females” (Ward, 2002, pp. 8-9). GBV is particularly likely to take place in time of conflict and in post-conflict environments. GBV can take many forms, including rape, slavery, forced impregnation/miscarriages, kidnapping/trafficking, forced nudity, and disease transmission, with rape and sexual abuse being among the most common (Manjoo and McRaith, 2011, p. 12).

One of the earliest steps towards recognition of GBV as a matter of concern came in 1863, when the Lieber Code (a U.S. code of conduct for the treatment of enemy civilians and prisoners of war) made rape a capital offense. Later, The Hague Convention of 1907 coded GBV as “violations of family honor and rights”. Explicit condemnation of GBV was achieved with Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was restated in Article 76 of the First Geneva Protocol directed to the victims of international war, and was extended to the victims of non-international conflicts with the Second Geneva Protocol of 1977. Further commitment to eliminate GBV in time of conflict came with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which includes several articles relating to the issue (Manjoo and McRaith, 2011).

Despite the existence of international laws and norms condemning wartime GBV, implementation has been patchy at best. In the aftermath of World War II, the trials of Nuremberg did not prosecute any case of GBV. Remarkably, the mass rape committed by the Red Army following the capture of Berlin went literally unspoken until very recently. The analogous trials in Tokyo only marginally engaged with GBV, treating these cases as a marginal category under the broad umbrella of crimes against humanity. More recently, mass rape, forced prostitution, and other forms of GBV went almost unspoken and unpunished in most conflicts, including very prominent ones such as the Vietnam War, the Pakistani secessionist war with India, and the First Gulf War (Saha, 2009, p. 505-7).

The turning point came in 1998, with the decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to condemn to life imprisonment Jean-Paul Akayesu for encouraging and facilitating mass rape operated during the 1994 Genocide. The decision recognized that rape can be perpetrated with the purpose of intimidation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, punishment, control or destruction of the person, and thus is a serious war crime. Furthermore, rape was recognized as falling under the definition of torture in those cases when it is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. The decision also acknowledged that rape can be used as an instrument of genocide when it is accomplished with the intent to physically or psychologically destroy a group (Saha, 2009, pp. 505-9; Manjoo and McRaith, 2011).

After the 1998 Akayesu decision, attention to gender issues in conflict scenarios and beyond increased dramatically, followed by a proliferation of legal and policy instruments for the protection of individuals from such crimes. In 2000, Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security emphasized “the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls”. Entering into force in 2002, the Rome Statute of the ICC codes wartime rape as a crime of war. In 2008, Security Council Resolution 1820 recognized GBV as a threat to international peace and security. Subsequently, Security Council Resolution 1888 (2009) called for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on sexual violence and for more concrete efforts for monitoring and reporting of GBV in time of conflict.

Offering Protection: Asylum and R2P

In this section, I wish to argue that the international community has two possibilities in which to offer protection to victims of GBV, this is dependent on their physical location with respect to the border of their country of origin. For people outside their country of origin, the international community can and should offer protection through a gendered interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. For people still within the borders of their country of origin, the international community can and should offer protection through the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect, when a host state manifestly fails to offer protection. Both instruments are limited for a wide array of reasons, but nonetheless encompass a strong mandate across and within national borders.

The 1951 Refugee Convention can be a powerful tool of international law to offer protection to people facing persecution based on their socially constructed gender role. The efficiency of the Convention in offering protection to potential victims of GBV is, however, limited by the absence of “gender” among the protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and membership of a particular social group). Lacking a specific provision for GBV, it has been the strategy of the UNHCR to treat gender as a “particular social group” (PSG). Offering protection under PSG is, however, rather problematic. Neither the Convention nor its 1968 Protocol provide a univocal definition of PSG. Asylum applications based on the particular social group ground are often viewed with diffidence. States perceive it as the key to the “floodgates” of undesired refugee flows. Claims based on particular social group have very low success rates, and is usually treated as the very last resort for asylum claimants. Amorphous in nature, PSG has always been the object of very restrictive and inconsistent interpretations across and within jurisdictions, making it a very risky option for asylum seekers (Prochazka, 2012, p. 446; Cianciarulo et al., 2012, pp. 142-3).

Despite the fact that gender based persecution has been a policy priority in the agenda of the UNHCR for more than twenty years, implementation has faced several obstacles. Arguably, this is the product of three factors. First, the discourse on gender-based asylum claims has come to the fore during a period in which Western attitude towards migratory flows is not as friendly as it used to be in the early Cold War years. In some cases, expansion of protection conflicts with other priorities of receiving states. Secondly, the large bureaucratic structure of the UNHCR itself can be viewed as a sort of obstacle. As in many other bureaucratic agencies, policy implementation is often slow, and policy priorities do not always penetrate evenly through the various branches. Thirdly, it is worth considering that the UNCHR heavily depends on the financing of donor states, with the EU and EU Members providing almost half of its resources. While these states have declared their commitment to the defence of human rights, evidence shows that their asylum policies are becoming more and more restrictive. Thus, the UN agency is in the uncomfortable position of having to promote policy priorities that might or might not coincide with the political interest of its main sponsors (Freedman, 2010a, 2010b).

Finally, the greatest limitation of the Refugee Convention is probably its limited focus on international migrants. Despite its quite advanced outlook, the Refugee Convention was drafted in 1951, and is invariably a product of its time and context. Despite the fact that liberalism was on the rise in international relations, state sovereignty was still an almost untouchable concept, at least for what concerns the administration of domestic matters (Gibney and Loescher, 2010).

In the post-Cold War scenario, increasing attention has been given to the need to redefine State sovereignty to include not only rights but also duties. This trend is significantly changing international relations in some unprecedented ways. In this context, one of the most relevant developing trends is the growing consensus in the international community around the emerging norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Formulated for the first time in 2001, R2P was adopted unanimously by the international community at the 2005 UN World Summit. The concept of R2P stands on three pillars, respectively stating that (1) states have a responsibility to protect their own population from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing; (2) that the international community has a duty to assist states in performing their primary duty to offer basic security; and (3) that the international community has a duty to use appropriate peaceful or non-peaceful means, with the authorization of the UNSC, in order to stop states who are manifestly failing to protect their own populations from ongoing atrocities.

Probably the most interesting characteristic of the R2P is its implications for state sovereignty. Ever since its formulation by early social contract theorists, sovereignty derives its legitimacy from the people who choose to alienate part of their freedom in favour of a sovereign that in turn is charged with some duties, the most important of which is the provision of security. Ever since the peace of Westphalia (1648), where modern nation-states made their first appearance, the security function of the sovereign has been mostly interpreted as limited to external security, with little or no attention to the treatment of domestic residents (Deng et al., 1996).

Arguably, the R2P is a norm that aims at re-establishing the original meaning of sovereignty in terms of responsibility within the framework of social contract theory (Deng et al., 1996). This is indeed the key assumption laying behind its first pillar that aims at making any sovereign liable for neglecting its most basic functions. Similarly, the second pillar of R2P is grounded on the assumption that states who fail in performing their basic duties can call upon the international community to assist them. Finally, the third pillar of R2P wants to reinforce the idea that, in light of the nexus between sovereignty and responsibility, international interventions to enforce or protect peace and security are indeed legitimate in those cases when the state is failing in providing basic guarantees or is itself the perpetrator of violence.

While the limitations to the mainstreaming of gender in asylum are to some extent due to the nature of the asylum system as envisioned by the Refugee Convention and the bureaucratic structure of the UNHCR, the limitations to the implementation of a gendered interpretation of R2P are mostly discursive. Since R2P refers to the duty to protect victims and prevent atrocity crimes, the recognition of GBV as a serious human rights violation automatically includes GBV into the framework of R2P. Limitations are therefore mostly tied to the way in which “gender” and “gender based violence” are conceptualized, translated into policy, defined in guidelines, and eventually implemented in daily practice. Schmeidl and Piza-Lopez (2002) authored one of the earliest works in this field, arguing that the mainstreaming of gender in conflict analysis and response (1) allows the detection of previously overlooked signs of instability; (2) prevents the perpetuation of discrimination in post-conflict scenarios; and (3) unlocks the untapped potential of women as agents of change in the peace process (Schmeidl and Piza-Lopez, 2002, p. 7). More recently, Bond and Sherret (2012) and Davis and Teitt (2012) argued for the creation of mutually reinforcing synergies between the Women, Peace, and Security agenda and R2P. Sara Davis further engaged in her advocacy effort, and in a recent paper explicitly encouraged the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Special Adviser for the Responsibility to Protect (OSAPG) to address the role of gender inequality and gendered violence in their early warning framework (Davies, Teitt, and Nwokora, 2015, p. 245).


Gender is a social construction that is produced, reproduced, and maintained through normative ideas regarding what is the appropriate way of being a man or being a woman. People can be targets of violence because of their socially constructed categorization, and this includes gendered categorizations. Gender based violence is therefore violence targeted at both men and women because of their gender. Gender based violence has been disregarded for much of human history, and only entered the agenda of the international community after World War II, finally achieving full commitment in the late 1990s. Yet despite this, the international community has still been unable to fully implement adequate protection and prevention strategies to tackle gender based crimes. Any attempt to achieve this in the future is arguably dependent on the efficiency of the actors involved in filling “gaps” between the actual and the intended effects of their actions, between their intended impact and their policy commitment, and between their policies on paper and their discursive commitments. Finally, full and efficient protection requires change at the discursive level to disrupt the notion that gender equates with women and recognize men’s issues as equally relevant. In this respect, integrating gender in the refugee and R2P agendas would allow for better early warning, enhanced protection across and within borders, and increasingly inclusive peace processes that engage all interested actors regardless of gender.

References cited

Bond, J., and Sherret, L. (2012). Mapping gender and the Responsibility to Protect: seeking intersections, finding parallels. Global Responsibility to Protect. 4(2). p. 133-153.

Carpenter, R.C. (2006) Recognizing gender-based violence against civilian men and boys in conflict situations. Security Dialogue. 37 (1). p. 83-103.

Cianciarulo, M., David, C. and Silenzi Cianciarulo, M. (2009) Pulling the trigger: Separation violence as a basis for refugee protection for battered women. American University Law Review. 59 (2). p. 337-384.

Connell, R.W. (1995) Masculinities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Crawley, H. (2001) Refugees and Gender: Law and Process. Bristol, UK: Jordan Publishing Limited.

Davies, S. E., and Teitt, S. (2012) Engendering the Responsibility to Protect: women and the prevention of mass atrocities. Global Responsibility to Protect. 4(2). p. 198-222.

Davies, S. E., Teitt, S., and Nwokora, Z. (2015) Bridging the gap: Early warning, gender and the responsibility to protect. Cooperation and Conflict. 50(2). p. 228-249.

Deng, F.M., et al. (1996) Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Fairclough, N. (1985) Critical and Descriptive Goals in Discourse Analysis. p. 30-55 in Fairclough, N. (ed.) (2010) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. (2nd ed.), Harlow, UK: Longman.

Fairclough, N. (1989) “language and ideology”. p. 56-68 in Fairclough, N. (ed.) (2010) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. (2nd ed.), Harlow, UK: Longman.

Fairclough, N. (1992) Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge, UK: Polity press.

Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge, New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Freedman, J. (2010a) Mainstreaming gender in refugee protection. Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 23 (4). p. 589-607.

Freedman, J. (2010b) Protecting women asylum seekers and refugees: From international norms to national protection? International Migration. 48 (1). p. 175-198.

Gibney, M., and Loescher, G. (2010) Global Refugee Crisis: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Gramsci, A. (1971) Selection from the Prison Notebooks, New York, NY: International Publishers.

Mahler, S.J. and Pessar, P.R. (2006) Gender matters: Ethnographers bring gender from the periphery to the core of Migration Studies. International Migration Review. 40 (1). p. 27-63.

Manjoo, R., and McRaith, C. (2011) Gender-based violence and justice in conflict and post-conflict areas. Cornell International Law Journal. 44. p. 11-31.

Prochazka, S. J. (2012) There is no honor in honor killings: Why women at risk for defying sociosexual norms should be considered a “particular social group” under asylum law. Thomas Jefferson Law review Journal. 34 (2). p. 445-503.

Saha, A. (2009) Rape as a war crime: The position of international law since World War II. Journal of East Asian and International Law. 2 (2). p. 497-516.

Schmeidl, S., and Piza-Lopez, E. (2002) Gender and conflict early warning: a framework for action. London: International Alert.

Ward, J. (2002) If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced and Post-conflict Settings. New York, NY: RHRC Consortium.

Fulfilling the Promise of R2P: Our Shared Responsibility

Prof. Alex J. Bellamy, Director, Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

We humans have often demonstrated an immense capacity to tolerate colossal inhumanity. As a result, no region of the world has escaped the scourge of genocide and mass atrocities in the past century or so. Time and again there have been impassioned appeals to put an end to these crimes, which shock the very conscience of mankind. Yet until very recently the world’s default response to mass killing, rape, torture and forced deportation was to stand aside and do little. From Phnom Penh to Kigali, the outside world offered little but fine words to the victims of atrocity crimes.

One response to the problem of mass atrocities has come in the form of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. Although – like all human-made things – it is far from perfect, R2P offers the best chance in our own time to build an international community less tolerant of mass atrocities and more predisposed to preventing them and protecting their intended victims. My optimism is based on the fact that R2P has achieved something that earlier projects did not: genuine and resilient international consensus.

R2P was adopted unanimously in 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly, in which all 193 Member States of the UN are represented. Four years later, in 2009, that same body agreed—again unanimously—to continue consideration of the principle’s implementation. The UN Security Council has referred to R2P in no fewer than 40 resolutions. The UN’s General Assembly and Human Rights Council have also adopted resolutions referring to the principle. To those who see Western hegemony lurking in the shadows—it bears pointing out that by virtue of their permanent membership of the UN Security Council, China and Russia have cast more votes at the UN in favor of the principle than have the great majority of Western democracies. This is a truly global undertaking and therein lies the transformative potential of R2P.

R2P is a disarmingly simply idea. It holds that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own populations from four crimes that indisputably ‘shock the conscience of humankind’ and their incitement: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. It requires that the UN’s Member States assist each other to fulfill their responsibility, because some states lack the physical capacity and legitimacy needed to protect their populations from these crimes. Finally, R2P says that when states are ‘manifestly failing’ to protect their populations from these four crimes, whether through lack of capacity or will or as a result of deliberate intent, the international community should respond in a ‘timely and decisive’ fashion with diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means and, failing that, with all the tools that are available to the United Nations (UN) Security Council. This can include the use of military force, which is sometimes a tragic necessity. R2P calls specifically for the prevention of the four crimes and of their incitement.

These are the three pillars of the Responsibility to Protect: (1) the primary responsibility of states to protect their own population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement; (2) the duty of states to assist each other to build the capacities necessary to discharge the first responsibility; (3) the international community’s responsibility to take timely and decisive action to protect populations from the four crimes when the state in question fails to do so. The principle is simple; it is the politics that surround it and the challenge of realizing its ambition in practice that is so difficult.

This is where individual responsibility comes in. R2P is not a self-fulfilling norm. It is a statement of shared expectation – a commitment of what the world ought to do in order to end genocide and mass atrocities once and for all. We all have a role to play and the choices each of us make will shape whether or not things change for the better. Naturally, whilst we can point to some notable successes – think of the diplomatic effort that ended Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008, of the successful efforts to ensure that Myanmar’s 2015 election was conducted peacefully (in a context where the risk of atrocities was uniformly judged to be very high), and of desperate ongoing efforts to prevent the escalation of violence in Burundi — but our practice sometimes falls well short of the mark as it did in Sri Lanka and as it is in Syria.  The world’s failures to protect are not failures of R2P as a principle, it is rather a failure of national leaders and others to honor the commitments they made in 2005.  R2P creates a shared expectation that allows us to judge when we are succeeding or failing. But translating the promise into practice depends on choices of individuals and groups around the world.

That is why a journal like this is so important. We need fresh thinking, we need analysis, we need to know what is happening, why and with what effects. The international community has never tried to implement a principle like R2P before and there is no blueprint to follow. We need, therefore, to learn from our experience – and to do so rapidly. There are also myriad new challenges, unforeseen a decade ago – in particular those posed by non-state armed groups and violent extremists. By contributing to the debate, generating new knowledge and sharing analysis, journals like this can make an incredibly useful contribution to practice.

As students and academics we have choices. We can choose to use our research, community engagement and other skills to help strengthen R2P and improve its implementation.  We can help figure out what works and what does not work, to learn the lessons from past cases, to help build the capacities that states and societies need to resist the forces of extremism and escalation, to deepen our understanding of how R2P is conceptualized and practiced in different parts of the world, and to hold leaders to account on whether they are fulfilling their commitments. Alternatively, we can choose the comparatively easy path of cynicism and despair: we could condemn R2P as western imperialism (but explain that to the many Africans, Asians and Latin Americans working hard to implement the principle), we could insist that R2P will never work and that only some unimagined global revolution can do the trick (in the meantime, the cost of inaction will be paid in the lives of the victims of today’s and tomorrow’s atrocity crimes), in short we can promote hopelessness from our ivory towers, in the safe comfort of knowing that we will never be held accountable for our ideas or held responsible for making them work in practice. Cynicism is the easy road to take, but that is not the road taken by those who want to make R2P a daily lived reality. They have chosen a much more challenging path, but one that can make a real and positive difference to lives real people lead.

R2P was not designed to be a precious jar sitting on the mantelpiece in perfect conceptual isolation. It was meant to be used, tarnished, brought into the rough and tumble of global political life. As a result, its imperfections and those of its implementation are all too obvious to see. But so too is the progress it is engendering. The world is now more likely to respond to genocide and mass atrocities than it was before R2P. It is much more likely to prioritize protection in its responses.  But there is much more that needs to be done. This important initiative, spearheaded by students from the University of Leeds and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, can make an important contribution to delivering on the commitment to R2P that all states made ten years ago. And that, I think, would be time very well spent.

R2P then and now: A conversation with Professor Gareth Evans about gross human rights violations in a changing global environment

Interview by Charlotte Abbott

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal Editorial Team

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept was first outlined in 2001 with the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) Report, authored by Professor Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun. In 2005 Governments unanimously agreed that they have a responsibility to protect populations from four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. Fifteen years on from the adoption of R2P, we spoke with Professor Gareth Evans regarding his involvement in the creation of R2P, and the global factors which have influenced it since 2005. We touched on topics such as the legacy of colonialism, changing power dynamics between States and corporations and the US presidential election.

Moral versus legal obligations

In your recent European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (ECR2P) Lecture [based on your GCR2P blog piece] titled ‘R2P: The Dream and the Reality’, you suggest that R2P is centred around creating a ‘compelling new sense of moral and political obligation’, as opposed to creating new legal rules. If so, how do we then enforce differing moral and political obligations if these are not embedded in international law?

Being embedded in international law, treaty or customary, does not guarantee effective enforcement: that is international law’s eternal problem. What matters is the political will to enforce the relevant norms, and that has always been R2P’s objective. That applies both in respect of (a) the important international human rights and humanitarian law obligations that do already inhibit states’ treatment of their own citizens or wartime behaviour and which are R2P relevant, and (b) those obligations under Pillars Two and Three of R2P which are not presently (some limited obligations under the Genocide Convention apart) at all cast in legal terms although hopefully they will ultimately evolve, through practical acceptance in years to come, as customary international law. What is abundantly clear is that any attempt to negotiate an R2P treaty would have gone nowhere in 2005 – and has no better prospects now, not least given the attitude of the US Senate to treaty ratification even under adult presidential administrations. Achieving effective implementation of R2P in all its dimensions is overwhelmingly a matter for political, not legal, advocacy and action.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty

The initial International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report lacked attention on gender, climate change, business and human rights. Were the ICISS report to be written now, would you include these topics in relation to the prevention of gross human rights violations? What else would you focus on?

No. I would write it as it now is. Without the narrow focus on the ‘four crimes’ in 2005 R2P would have had no chance of being embraced by the World Summit. Of course rape and gender-related crimes are often at the heart of the worst mass atrocity crimes; business can be centrally involved in both abetting and preventing such crimes; and CO2 reduction is an absolutely critical existential issue for the planet. But we don’t help the R2P cause at all by diluting its focus to extend to other public goods issues, whether related or unrelated and whatever their merit. See further my answer to your last question below.

The ICISS report was drafted before the war on terror. In what ways has the war on terror affected R2P implementation? How have R2P and counter-terrorism interacted given their different conceptions of security (human centred for R2P and state-centered for counter-terrorism)?

Counter-terrorism and R2P strategies are conceptually distinct but complementary, in the sense that R2P-atrocity crimes are often perpetrated by terrorist organisations. (R2P is similarly conceptually distinct but complementary to the United Nations ‘Protection of Civilians’ agenda – the latter being concerned with a broader range of protection issues than just atrocity crimes, and only in a wartime/conflict environment.) The main impact of the ‘war on terror’ on R2P was the way in which 9/11 in 2001, just before the ICISS report was published, moved terrorism to centre stage in international security policy discourse, after a decade in which the big debate was about ‘humanitarian intervention’. It remains something of a miracle that we were able to keep enough focus on the broader issue of mass atrocity crimes to win through as we did at the 2005 World Summit.

The development of R2P

Would you agree that the discourse of colonialism continues to affect the way in which R2P operates, in a practical sense? If so, how and why?

Colonialism discourse had a very strong negative impact on Western attempts to gain traction for the ‘right of humanitarian intervention’ in the 1990s. One of the great breakthroughs of ICISS was to change the underlying basis of that discourse by reconceptualising ‘right’ as ‘responsibility’ and ‘intervention’ as ‘protection’. The measure of our success was the unanimity of the 2005 resolution with the states of sub-Saharan Africa, every last one of them passionately anti-colonialist, playing an absolutely crucial supporting role. That dynamic has largely continued, with some states – like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – regularly trying to play a spoiling colonialism card, but gaining little traction in UN General Assembly debates and elsewhere for their efforts: the basic elements of the R2P norm are still pretty much universally accepted.

The continuing fallout from the Permanent Three’s overreach in Libya in 2011, which enraged the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in particular, continues to inhibit consensus in the Security Council, and that has a whiff of anti-colonialist/imperialist sentiment about it – ‘these guys are never to be trusted’ –but this dispute has always been more about general geopolitics than anti-colonialism as such.

As Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are becoming increasingly wealthy and powerful, should the R2P be applied to MNCs as well as states (see the case of Uighur Muslims forced labour in Chinese and international MNCs and Facebook’s contribution to the spread of hate speech in Myanmar against the Rohingya)?

Non-state actors, including multinational corporations and terrorist and militia groups, have always been important players in an R2P context. Curbing their behaviour or – in the case of businesses – enlisting their support will often need to be addressed in crafting R2P preventive, reactive and peacebuilding strategies at both national and intergovernmental levels.

Before the US election, you argued that Trump vs Biden’s approach to the COVID-19 crisis would either ‘accelerate defensive nationalism and mistrust of international institutions and processes, or serve rather as a giant wake-up call as to the absolute necessity of effective international cooperation’. In light of Joe Biden’s election, where do you see international commitment to the ‘responsibility to protect’ heading in the next years, and in a ‘post-Covid’ world?

The Biden administration will be genuinely committed to both human rights protection and cooperative multilateralism, and as such I look forward to a renewed commitment by the US to the key elements of the R2P agenda – and certainly to the values which underlie it, and for that to be influential in underpinning wider international support for R2P. There will probably still be over-caution – which I found incredibly frustrating under the Obama administration – about publicly embracing R2P in a domestic, as distinct from UN context (because it implied commitment to certain courses of action, and Washington, whoever is in power, likes to be seen by domestic critics as absolutely unconstrained in keeping all its options open). And there will certainly be extreme resistance – in the prevailing domestic political environment – to rushing into new foreign military adventures. But I don’t think a Biden presidency would just wash its hands should another Rwandan or Bosnian genocide situation erupt on its watch. Syrian type cases – not to mention cases like Xinjiang’s Uighurs – will be much harder, but they always are.

Advice for young scholars and practitioners

What advice do you have for young scholars and practitioners who are interested in working in the field of atrocity prevention/responses to gross human rights violations?

I have spelt this out, in the context of international careers generally, at considerable length in an article for The Conversation. In short, acquire the right professional skills; do your best to acquire relevant experience, through internships in relevant organisations and as much adventurous travel as you can, Covid permitting; give trust to luck; and stay optimistic. It really is crucial that the next generation of scholars and practitioners – those with a serious practical policy, not just theoretical, bent – carry on the fight for effective implementation of R2P in all its dimensions. The task is not just to analyse the world’s behaviour, but to change it. Go for it!

We’d like to end this interview with a question, but this time you’re the one asking it. When it comes to R2P today, what question do you find to be most important? What do you find is the most redundant?

The question I continue to find most unhelpful is the kind originally asked me by the Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who initiated the ICISS Commission, and which has been repeated in endless variants in different settings (including this interview request!) since: ‘R2P is such a beautiful idea: why shouldn’t we talk about a ‘responsibility to protect’ the Inuit people of the Arctic Circle from the ravages of climate change?’

The point is that any concept which is about everything ends up being about nothing, certainly when it comes to effective operational implementation. ‘Human security’ – though making the valuable point that individuals count as much as states – has suffered that fate. R2P was designed above all else with an operational objective: to energise effective international responses to mass atrocity crimes, threatened or occurring, behind sovereign state borders: if you make it about lots of other (unquestionably valuable) causes, you completely lose any such traction.

The most important continuing question for me is ‘How do we recreate effective consensus on the UN Security Council when it comes to responding to the most extreme mass atrocity crime cases?’.

Plenty will say that comes down the list, and that the whole present advocacy focus should be on prevention rather than reaction because if the former is effective the latter is redundant. Apart from the practical reply that achieving preventive perfection is unhappily still a distant aspiration, effective reaction to the really hard cases – the Cambodias and Rwandas and Bosnias – is where R2P’s credibility, and longevity, really stands or falls. Get unanimity on these issues in the world’s most important security forum and everything else falls into place; fail, and the cynics and sceptics will continue to gnaw away at the very concept of R2P and its utility in every other context.

Atrocity Prevention, 15 Years Since the Adoption of R2P: Interview with UN Special Adviser on R2P Dr. Karen Smith

Interview by Georgiana Epure, Charlotte Abbott and Emma Bapt

In 2005, governments unanimously agreed that they have both an individual and a collective responsibility to protect (R2P) populations, not just citizens, from four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. In 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the position of the Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect and since 2009 the Secretary-General has been publishing annual reports on R2P clarifying and developing what this concept means and what ‘tools’ it needs in order to be implemented more effectively. Fifteen years after the adoption of the R2P, we talked with Dr. Karen Smith, the UN Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect. Our interview touched on a series of issues that range from how the coronavirus pandemic affects atrocity prevention efforts to the role that religious leaders have in countering incitement to violence, and the relation between R2P and the Women, Peace and Security agenda – the topic of the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on R2P.


Recently, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the ‘tsunami of hate and xenophobia’ sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. What is the state of the R2P norm in an age of increasing nationalism where more and more leaders legitimise hate speech, which may lead to hate crimes and other early warnings of atrocity crimes?

The rise in hate speech that we have seen accompanying a rise in nationalism and populism in many parts of the world underscores the fact that R2P is as relevant as ever. States – including their leaders – must be reminded of the responsibility they have, and the commitment they made in 2005, to protect their populations (including minorities and migrants). It is important to note that no country is immune from hate speech and its potential violent effects. During the current global pandemic, we have seen a worrying trend in which already vulnerable populations are targeted by hate speech and sometimes violent behaviour, based on accusations related to the spread of the coronavirus. The UN Secretary-General recognised the importance of addressing rising hate speech when, at the beginning of last year, he tasked the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide to coordinate the development of a UN-wide Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which is currently being rolled out, and has recently been supplemented by a guidance note on addressing COVID-19 related hate speech. Importantly, the Strategy and Plan of Action calls for more rather than less speech, underlining the importance of protecting freedom of expression whilst addressing hate speech that incites violence.

In May, the UN Security Council was close to voting on a resolution calling for a global ceasefire that would enable the international community to focus on ending the coronavirus pandemic. Conflict, fragile societies and the threat of atrocities may severely impact nations’ ability to confront COVID-19. Do you think the pandemic will reshape the way in which the international community thinks about global responsibilities and basic universal rights? 

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly has serious implications for the responsibility to protect, not least because it is likely to significantly increase the risk to already vulnerable populations. We are already witnessing that those parts of the population who already face high levels of risk – including ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, refugees, the poor, and women, are facing increased risk to their safety and their livelihoods. In many countries minorities have become the target of hate speech and in some cases even violence, based on their alleged association with the spreading of infections. In the development of national and global responses to the crisis, it is essential that any action takes into consideration the potential implications for the risk of atrocity crimes. Some of the lessons being learned in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak are also relevant for atrocity prevention. These include the obvious, but consistently under-prioritised, fact that prevention is better than cure. Similarly, the importance of early warning – whether with reference to conflict, pandemics, or atrocity crimes, has been underlined. Like many other global governance challenges, the virus does not respect borders and therefore a multilateral, collective global response is really the only viable solution. Worryingly, over the past few years there has been a trend towards weakening multilateral institutions and, as part of growing nationalist and populist sentiments around the world, a general questioning of multilateralism. We must therefore also see the current crisis as presenting the international community with an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the current global order, and which issues should be prioritised, in the interests of building a better world.

Role of religious leaders

More and more attention is directed towards bringing religious leaders into efforts to prevent and counter incitement to violence, including identity-based violence. Last year, Ms Federica Mogherini, then European Union High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, announced a new EU-sponsored Global Exchange on Religion in Society to connect and empower civil society actors who are working on faith and social inclusion. Notably, in 2017, under the stewardship of the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect,  the UN Secretary General launched the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes. Where do we factor in an approach to R2P that mobilises members of civil society and focuses on particular areas (i.e. religion) for prevention purposes within the more common state-centric R2P approach? Is this a sign of a shift in approach, or R2Psimply diversifying its prevention ‘toolkit’?

While it remains the primary responsibility of states to protect their populations from atrocity crimes, this is not to the exclusion of other (non-state) actors. Particularly with regard to prevention, it is obvious that individual governments cannot build tolerant, resilient societies without the support of civil society. Many civil society actors can and have been playing important roles. These include women, youth, and religious leaders. As mentioned earlier, we have witnessed a disturbing rise in hate speech in recent years, much (but not all) of which targets religion. It is here that religious leaders can be particularly important in promoting tolerance and preventing incitement to hatred amongst their followers. As part of its Plan of Action for Religious Leaders, the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has worked with religious leaders from across different world regions and faiths to come up with a strategy that outlines specific targets aimed at preventing hate speech through enhancing education and capacity building, fostering inter-and intra-faith dialogue, and strengthening collaboration with traditional and new media. Religious leaders are undoubtedly essential partners in the fight against atrocities.

R2P focal points

Last year the Global Network of R2P Focal Points welcomed its second regional focal point (after the EU): the Organisation of American States. Why is it important that states and regional actors have such a focal point? What does the fact that most, if not all, R2P focal points are based in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs say about R2P? Doesn’t this pattern in a way contradict R2P’s focus on domestic prevention?

The global focal points initiative is another stepping stone to wider implementation of R2P. The idea behind having such focal points in governments and regional organisations is that they are tasked with raising atrocity prevention as a priority across the work of governments, whether that be conflict prevention, development assistance, or education. While it should, in essence, matter less which ministry the focal point is based in, but rather how active they are, the fact that most focal points to date have been appointed in ministries of foreign affairs does tell us something about how most states still view R2P. While the international community’s responsibility to assist prevention efforts and respond to the commission of atrocities in all states is of course an important element of R2P, this should not override the primary responsibility of states to protect their own populations. In this regard, more needs to be done to emphasise the importance of thinking of R2P in domestic terms – even in states where the commission of atrocity crimes seems unlikely. As mentioned above, we are seeing a worrying rise in intolerance, hate speech and incitement to violence in many countries, and these risk factors should be taken seriously and addressed appropriately.

Women, Peace and Security agenda

Many scholars and practitioners have noted that R2P lacks a gender lens. Where do you situate the Women Peace and Security agenda in the process of making the R2P norm more gender sensitive? Given R2P scepticism, do you think that moving towards merging these two agendas might risk bringing down the WPS agenda’s consensus power?

The criticism of R2P lacking a gender lens is partly justified. While explicit reference to gender is, for example, limited in tools such as the Framework for Analysis, in practice, there is greater emphasis on the role of gender inequality, gender-based violence, and the role of women in particular in assessments that are done using this tool. Having said that, there is certainly room for improvement, and a need to think more systematically about how to incorporate gender more effectively into R2P but also – and this is important – to make atrocity prevention an integral part of the WPS agenda. To this end, this year’s SG report on R2P will focus on this exact issue. It is particularly relevant given the significance of 2020 for both agendas – 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for women’s rights, 20 years since the passing of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and 15 years since the adoption of the R2P during the World Summit in 2005. I don’t think that highlighting the areas of complementarity have to mean merging the agendas. It is more about recognising the potential for mutual reinforcement that already exists.

Measuring R2P success

Despite the rich literature on R2P, much of it documents where R2P went wrong, and numerous scholars argue that it is obsolete or a “hollow norm”. Are there any success stories? The bigger question is: how do you measure R2P success today?

It is always easier to identify and focus on where things went wrong – this is also how we have been trained by the global news cycle. The focus on where R2P has not been successful is also linked to the emphasis on the use of military force to respond to atrocities. If we agree that the ultimate aim of R2P is to prevent atrocities from occurring in the first place, this is where we should measure success. This, however, is difficult, as it often leads us down the path of counterfactuals. Conflict averted and atrocities prevented are not newsworthy, and it is often difficult to say what would or could have happened had certain steps not been taken. There are, however, some examples of where collective action by states, regional actors and the international community successfully prevented the likely commission of atrocities. One often-cited case is Kenya, following election violence in 2008. Another is The Gambia. When the outgoing president Jammeh refused to hand over power to his elected successor and ordered troops to be deployed to act against the civilian population, ECOWAS deployed a mediation team. They were supported by the UNSC, the AU, EU and key states. When the mediation failed, ECOWAS deployed a coalition of military forces to protect the civilian population. Eventually President Jammeh stepped down, and ECOWAS forces remained to oversee the transition of power. These are two clear examples of the responsibility to protect in action.

A word for young people working on atrocity prevention

What advice do you have for young scholars and practitioners who are interested in working in the field of atrocity prevention?

I would strongly encourage anyone interested in this field to pursue it – there is much work that remains to be done, both on the academic side and in practice. In terms of students working on R2P and atrocity prevention: while there is certainly a place for theoretical work on issues such as norm evolution and contestation, my experience has been that there is an even greater need for policy-oriented research that can help to advance the implementation of the responsibility to protect in a very practical way. For example, this year’s Secretary-General’s report will focus on women and R2P. While there is evidence-based research showing a clear link between gender equality and women’s rights and a state’s propensity for conflict, much research is still needed to explicitly highlight the links between these issues and atrocity prevention in particular. Similarly, there is still much to learn about what causes atrocity crimes to be committed, and what types of responses are effective in preventing them in different contexts. More research is essential if we want to strengthen our prevention efforts. With regards to working in the field of atrocity prevention, I would underline that there is a need for individuals who are committed to prioritising atrocity prevention across all fields, so do not be discouraged if you do not find a job in an organisation specifically dedicated to it. What we need is for atrocity prevention to be mainstreamed and prioritised across domestic and foreign policy making, development cooperation, education, and so forth.

After a series of thought-provoking answers from Dr. Karen Smith, the interview came to a close with the R2P Student Journal engaging in role reversal. We invited Dr. Smith to state the most important and redundant questions regarding R2P today. In her opinion, the most important question related to the norm’s implementation: ‘How can we ensure effective prevention of atrocity crimes?’, whilst the most redundant question is: ‘Is R2P still relevant?’.

R2P is Unable to Protect the Stateless; It’s Time for the United Nations Security Council to Step Up

Posted on September 22, 2020

By Dimitra Protopsalti and Timothy Lionarons

Dimitra and Timothy are Master’s students at Leiden University in the Netherlands, currently enrolled in the two-year Advanced Master’s programme lnternational Relations and Diplomacy. This Master’s programme is taught in collaboration with the Clingendael lnstitute. @DProtopsalti 

The United Nations (UN), established in 1945 to promote world peace, instated the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2005 to shield humankind from mass atrocities. However, the shortcomings of R2P are a product of its exclusionary nature. The UN, and subsequently the R2P, fail to protect an approximated 10 million of the world population: the stateless. R2P’s reliance on the states’ notion of citizenship has revealed a weakness in protecting the stateless. The Turkish invasion of the Kurdish region of Syria demonstrated exactly how the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was unable to safeguard those most in need. Hence, it is vital that the UNSC broadens the inclusiveness of the R2P in order to protect stateless people.

R2P and the Problematic Interpretation of the UNSC

Contrary to humanitarian intervention, R2P places the primary responsibility to protect citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing on the state itself, in accordance with Pillar I. If a state is unable or unwilling to provide this protection, it is encouraged and pressured by the international community through both aid and sanctions (Pillar II). If the aforementioned measures still do not suffice, Pillar III entails the responsibility of the international community to intervene militarily.

When discussing the necessity to intervene in conflict-stricken states, the UNSC tends to refer to and rely heavily on a state’s primary responsibility to protect. All statements and resolutions by members of the UNSC since 2011 have emphasized Pillar I responsibilities and, by extension, have understated Pillars II and III that denote international responsibility. This is because international responsibility can cause infringement of state sovereignty.

However, sovereignty grants independence and inalienable rights that enable a state to determine who is granted citizenship and, by extension, the right to protection. The stateless, by nature, are deprived of citizenship and hence fall between the cracks of protection by both the state in which they reside and the international community.

Left to Their Own Devices: The Kurds, the Rohingya and the Bidoon

The Turkish invasion of Kurdish-occupied North Syria once more underlined the R2P’s inability to protect the stateless. With president Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from the Rojava region, Turkey was given free rein to set up a so-called ‘safe zone’ in Syria. This posed a direct threat to the Kurdish population of the region, yet their cries for help were unheard. The largest stateless population in the world was left subject to the Turkish government – the same government that deems the Kurds and any affiliated political organizations to be terrorists of nature. What ensued was the killing of more than 70 individuals and forced displacement of 300,000 Kurds from the region.

Similarly, the Rohingya, residing in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, have been systematically targeted by the Myanmar government. As a result of R2P’s failure to protect the stateless, many died and thousands were forced to seek refuge in Bangladesh. As of 2017 Bangladesh counts an estimated 900,000 Rohingya refugees.

In Kuwait, the stateless Bidoon population (“bidun jinsiyya”, meaning ‘without nationality’) suffers the same fate as the Kurds and the Rohingya. They, too, are devoid of basic human rights and the protection against crimes as underlined in R2P.

These examples are often accompanied by vocabulary signalling genocide and/or ethnic cleansing. President Trump justified the invasion in North Syria as a process of “cleaning out” the region, whilst the Myanmar government initiated “clearing operations” against the Rohingya. The Rohingya were characterized as “roaches” to be “exterminated” and the Bidoon were deemed “illegal residents” by the Kuwaiti government. History has demonstrated that all too often such language results in atrocity as populations become stripped of their humanity.

Still, R2P fails to include the stateless in its protective framework.

Intervening to Intervene: A More Inclusive R2P

To prevent these conflicts from escalating further and resulting in atrocities which violate R2P principles, the UNSC must take immediate action. Specifically, the UNSC ought to adopt a new resolution which foresees the protection of all individuals within a state, regardless of their (lack of) citizenship. The final responsibility and decision to intervene lies with the UNSC. Yet, the UNSC has the ability to veto proposed R2P interventions and has done so in the past. Thus, it is critical that the UNSC demonstrates its ability to act as a unified actor and that Member States set aside personal interests to protect all of humankind. By adopting a new resolution that includes the responsibility to protect all people residing within the borders of a state, not just those granted citizenship, the UN will be able to prevent the stateless from falling between the cracks of R2P protection by the state and the international community. This enables Turkey-Syria, Myanmar, and Kuwait to be held accountable for their negligence to protect the Kurds, the Rohingya, and the Bidoon, respectively.

If the UNSC decides not to adopt the amendment, the remaining member states of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) should invoke Resolution 377, also known as the ‘Uniting for Peace Resolution’, to proceed to its adoption without the consent of the UNSC. Under the Charter, this resolution allows the UNGA to take collective action in order to protect and maintain international peace and security if the UNSC fails to do so. In this case, it enables the UNGA to protect the stateless.

To reiterate, we have proposed two distinct manners in which a new resolution can be adopted to ensure the inclusion and consequent protection of the stateless, by complementing the existing R2P regime.

Book Review: Responsibility to Protect and the Failures of the United Nations Security Council by Patrick M. Butchard

Posted on July 11, 2020 

By Blake Lawrinson 

Blake Lawrinson is a PhD researcher in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. His thesis examines the changes and continuities in the UK’s commitment to human protection from mass violence and atrocity crimes (1997-2020). His research is funded by a Leeds Doctoral Scholarship (2017-2020).

Book Review: “Responsibility to Protect and the Failures of the United Nations Security Council” by Patrick M. Butchard. Oxford: Hart. 2020. 308pp. ISBN: 9781509930814.

‘Responsibility is a continuum, and it does not cease to exist with failure’ (p.269)

In the event of UN Security Council deadlock and paralysis, should we simply give up on implementing the responsibility to protect (R2P) populations from atrocity crimes? The UN Security Council’s response to the crisis in Syria (2011-) encapsulates this dilemma having failed to establish common ground on action after almost a decade of conflict. In Responsibility to Protect and the Failures of the United Nations Security Council, Patrick Butchard argues that R2P implementation does not end with such UN Security Council failure, but rather that this legal responsibility can transfer to other actors through a ‘tertiary responsibility to protect’ (pp.3-4).

This argument is constructed through a comprehensive analysis of the legality of alternative forms of forcible and non-forcible coercive measures beyond the UN Security Council. This is achieved by first, addressing the historical context and establishing the legal framework for the tertiary R2P (chapters 1-3); and second, examining the legality of forcible and non-forcible coercive measures and their implementation by other actors (chapters 4-6). According to the author, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter on the prohibition of the threat or use of force and Article 2(7) on non-intervention in the domestic affairs of a state are fundamental to locating the existing legal debates on intervention through the UN Security Council. Pre-R2P, debates focused on the legality of unilateral humanitarian intervention, which was witnessed more notably during the 1999 NATO-led action in Kosovo. The author is quick to debunk this ‘myth of humanitarian intervention’ (p.7), given the lack of support in both state practice and opinion juris (p.28). With unilateral humanitarian intervention failing to provide a credible legal avenue for protecting populations from atrocity crimes, focus then shifted to a reconfiguration of sovereignty as a responsibility through the R2P.

The author suggests that R2P has two core responsibilities contained in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. The first relates to a state’s primary responsibility to protect its population from the four crimes of genocide: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, and the international community’s responsibility to assist a state in preventing these crimes (pillars I and, respectively, pillar II). The second concerns the responsibility to take ‘timely decisive action’ through the UN Security Council to protect populations from these four crimes (pillar III) (p.3). But what happens when the UN Security Council fails to take such timely and decisive action? Does R2P simply end with UN Security Council inaction? According to the author, just because the UN Security Council fails this does not necessarily rule out legal R2P action from other actors as ‘there is no reason why it should not continue’ (p.4, emphasis in original). Such action beyond the UN Security Council thus constitutes a third responsibility in the form of the tertiary R2P.

Given that legal responsibility for the implementation of forcible and coercive measures under the R2P lies first and foremost with the UN Security Council, the first step in acting beyond this requires a connection between R2P and maintaining international peace and security (p.55). This is essential given that the R2P is not a legal doctrine, whilst maintaining international peace and security ‘is enshrined in international law – in the UN Charter – and brings with it the force of a duty, and not just an aspiration, to do something’ (p.266). Crucially, the author argues that the UN Security Council ‘does have a legal obligation to maintain international peace and security and, by extension, to protect populations from atrocity crimes covered by the R2P framework’ (p.84, emphasis added). This is a particularly convincing argument, since it establishes a potential legal avenue for actors to implement the R2P when the UN Security Council has failed (p.55). The only potential drawback in this instance is that this legal action would require actors to make a connection between R2P and maintaining international peace and security.

By establishing that there is a legal opportunity for the implementation of a tertiary R2P when (1) respecting the territorial integrity and political independence of a state; and (2) ‘it is consistent with the purposes of the United Nations’ under Article 2(4) (p.124), the author shifts the focus to considering the legal implementation of non-forcible coercive measures. This centres largely on the ‘doctrine of countermeasures’ when the state in question has committed atrocity crimes (p.125). Legal countermeasures may include economic sanctions as witnessed in the case of Russia following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and in Myanmar in 2017 following the outbreak of mass atrocities (pp.172-178). An obvious limitation here, and one rightly acknowledged by the author, is that such legal countermeasures are only available after a state commits such acts. Moreover, since such actions do not involve direct forcible action, it is difficult to envisage whether this would help to directly prevent mass atrocities in the same way as timely and decisive action through the UN Security Council.

The real crux of the argument is addressed in the final chapter on the those responsible for implementing forcible and non-forcible coercive measures through the tertiary R2P. Two actors in particular are identified as having both the legal competence and capability for implementation. The first is the General Assembly, which has the power to implement the tertiary R2P through recommending the use of force. Such powers of recommendation are captured by the Uniting for Peace Resolution (1950), the use of which has been widely debated (Carswell, 2013; Kenny, 2016; Melling and Dennett, 2018; Nahlawi, 2019). However, there are three important qualifications on this power. First, this has to remain consistent with the principles outlined in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter; second, the General Assembly can only implement the R2P through establishing its relationship with the maintenance of international peace and security; third, any such recommendation requires a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly (p.230). Whilst acknowledging that the General Assembly ‘provides the best institutional legitimacy for such action’ (p.264), commanding the necessary political will and consensus are significant barriers to the implementation of the tertiary R2P through the General Assembly.

That said, the General Assembly does have the potential to implement non-forcible coercive measures, such as sanctions, by drawing on the doctrine of countermeasures. This again, however, is guided and limited by existing international law. Regional organisations, recognised in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, are the second actor with the legal competence to implement the tertiary R2P. Whilst legal forcible measures without prior UN approval would be illegal, the author finds room through the doctrine of countermeasures, which ‘provides a further legal basis for collective action’ (p.240). Again, however, the use of such measures requires consensus and political will from regional organisations to bypass the UN Security Council. This in turn has the potential to act as a major impediment to implementing the tertiary R2P.

The author openly acknowledges that the book ‘has not sought to offer simple solutions to complex problems’ (p.265). The author convincingly argues that there is in fact legal space to implement a tertiary R2P amid UN Security Council deadlock and paralysis. This is by no means an easy task, and to the author’s credit, they do not shy away from this. Rather, they provide an original contribution to contemporary debates on the implementation of the R2P in the context of UN Security Council politics. The real strength of the argument is how it does not simply cover the same ground as existing debates, such as the wealth of literature on the responsibility not to veto (Gifkins, 2012; Webb, 2014; Essawy, 2020), but attempts to set out a new trajectory for R2P implementation in the face of the same deadlock and paralysis witnessed more recently on Syria. Notably, the author recognises from the outset the importance of legality and draws on a wealth of knowledge of international law and the R2P to provide a comprehensive, and convincing, account on the alternatives to R2P action beyond the UN Security Council.

The real appeal of the book is how the author is able to summarise and apply detailed legal debates to practice on R2P. Whilst the author acknowledges their ‘disappointment’ that such a book is required given that ‘the body tasked with maintaining international peace and security too often fails to uphold its responsibilities’ (p.265), they do justice to the topic through providing a foundation for considering the legality of R2P action beyond the UN Security Council. This is an original account of such an important issue in the field and should be key reading for students, academics, and practitioners across the spectrum hoping to continue an exploration of legal alternatives for R2P implementation in the face of UN Security Council failure.


Carswell, A.J. (2013) ‘Unblocking the UN Security Council: The Uniting for Peace Resolution’, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 18(3), pp.453-480.

Essawy, R.M. (2020) ‘The Responsibility Not to Veto Revisited under the Theory of ‘Consequential Jus Cogens’, Global Responsibility to Protect, Advanced Access.

Gifkins, J. (2012) ‘The UN Security Council Divided: Syria in Crisis’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 4(3), pp.377-393.

Kenny, C. (2016) ‘Responsibility to recommend: the role of the UN General Assembly in the maintenance of international peace and security’, Journal on the Use of Force and International Law, 3(1), pp.3-36.

Melling, G. and Dennett, A. (2018) ‘The Security Council veto and Syria: responding to mass atrocities through the “Uniting for Peace” resolution’, Indian Journal of International Law. 57(3-4), pp.285-307.

Nahlawi, Y. (2019) ‘Overcoming Russian and Chinese Vetoes on Syria through Uniting for Peace’, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 24(1), pp.111-143.

Webb, P. (2014) ‘Deadlock or Restraint? The Security Council Veto and the Use of Force in Syria’, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 19(3), pp.471-488.