First Phase Digital

The Responsibility to Protect principle, which was established after the failure of the international community to protect citizens in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s, is often under attack. The R2P principle aims to protect human populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it is argued that this principle is not effective in this. This is at least partly caused by the fact that the principle does not give a well-developed framework for who should intervene when the R2P principle applies to a case. It only states that the international community as a whole has the responsibility to protect human populations from those crimes mentioned here above. But who should take the responsibility for humanitarian intervention when it is necessary and justified? The R2P framework does not give a clear answer to that. The international community has an unassigned responsibility to intervene, as Pattison states, but it is no one’s responsibility in particular.

The consequence of this is that there is a plethora of ‘rescuers’ in cases where humanitarian intervention is required. But the more potential rescuers there are, the less the likelihood of the chances of rescue. When there is only one potential intervener or a few clearly defined actors, the likelihood increases that a rescue will actually take place. Having a clearly defined agent or actor for humanitarian intervention when the R2P principle applies, might also help solving issues of accountability, which my colleague Ahmed Badawi elaborately described here. When it is more clear who is responsible under the R2P principle, it is also more clear who is accountable, also in cases where the necessary intervention is neglected.

To fully implement the R2P principle as a UN policy, the responsibility to intervene in certain cases must be assigned to a specific actor. This, however, does not mean that there should be a formal assignment of who should intervene laid down in international law. That could limit the opportunities for future potential interveners and might make the amount of ‘rescuers’ too small. Rather, a more informal framework should be developed for assigning actors the Responsibility to Protect. It is key here to have a set of actors that can handle the situation in an adequate manner. This will ensure there are actors available to assign the Responsibility to Protect to, which then have the duty to protect human populations that follows from the R2P principle.

Pattison suggests that the most legitimate intervener should act, while there still remains room for other (less legitimate, but still legitimate) actors to act if necessary. In each case where the R2P principle applies, there will be a ranking of the most legitimate actors. Of course, there always has to be an authorization for the use of force through the United Nations. Who the most legitimate actor is varies from case to case, since each case is unique. A framework with guidelines should be developed to determine in particular cases which actors are the most legitimate. These actors have then a duty to take action in line with the Responsibility to Protect principle and should be held accountable when they fail to protect the populations they need to protect.

The principle of ‘subsidiarity’ could be used as one of the guidelines to establish which actor should intervene. This principle means that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization if it could be done by a smaller and simpler organization. In practice this mean that any activity that can be undertaken by a decentralized actor should be performed by this actor. For the R2P principle this entails that regional organizations, such as the EU, NATO or the African Union, should play a key role in humanitarian interventions in cases where the R2P principle applies. This enhances the effectiveness of the intervention.

We have to remember that the failure of the international community to adequately help the people in Rwanda and Srebrenica had for a large part to do with the amount of troops deployed in these countries. Assigning responsibility to specific actors would give them the duty for a humanitarian intervention when necessary. This would be much more effective than waiting for the international community as whole to respond.

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