The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, also known as R2P, was created by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in response to the genocide in Rwanda. R2P argues that the international community has the responsibility to protect civilians in states that are unwilling or unable to do so, therefore re-defining the pillars of state sovereignty. Two basic pillars of the Responsibility to Protect include state sovereignty to responsibility for the protection of its people lies within the state itself, as well as the international responsibility to protect populations suffering serious harm from internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure through humanitarian intervention.
The Responsibility to Protect includes the responsibility to prevent, react and rebuild. To prevent includes addressing both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk. The responsibility to react describes the duty of either the state or international community to utilize coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and military intervention as a last resort in response to situations with dire humanitarian consequences. The responsibility to rebuild includes providing full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, usually after a military intervention.
There are six criteria for military intervention: just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, reasonable prospects and right authority. Military intervention is difficult to justify, not only because of the criteria for intervention, but due to state sovereignty and United Nations Security Council vetoes. The conflict in Syria demonstrates the difficulty of implementing R2P and humanitarian intervention.
In addition to issues of sovereignty between the governments, the lack of cohesive intervention from the beginning has contributed to the conflict significantly, for early attempts at intervention were neither swift nor effective. Due to the humanitarian situation, a UNSC Resolution or unilateral intervention justification would have proven legitimate in regard to the International Convention on Human Rights and the Responsibility to Protect, for the Assad regime was not being held accountable for the mass atrocities being committed within his territory. In addition to a lack of UNSC approval, the Chinese and Russian veto of the transfer of the case to the ICC has proven a hindrance to the international capacity to alleviate the conflict and further promotes the proxy war debate.
The lack of international capacity to alleviate the conflict in Syria has illuminated several tensions for the Responsibility to Protect and the future of humanitarian intervention. The conflict further demonstrates how R2P continues to be dependent on national interests, rather than the presence of “atrocities that shock the conscience.” The international community ought to acknowledge their mistake for not intervening in Syria in pursuit of assuring this non-intervention is a deviation from the norm to protect rather than implementation of a new precedent in order to restore the legitimacy of the Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention.
– Neti Gupta