Responsibility to protect (R2P or RtoP): Is it a disguised Blessing or Oppression to the humanity?


This world is now repeatedly facing some grave emergency about Humanitarian crisis. Lots of serious issue about war and inter conflict break out continuously. Like the crisis in the Middle East and some part of Asia, the humanity itself endangered by powerful oppressor. The international community in the last decade repeatedly made a mess of handling the many demands that were made for “humanitarian intervention”: coercive action against a state to protect people within its borders from suffering grave harm. There were no agreed rules for handling cases such as Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo at the start of the 1990s, and there remain none today. So for the intervention in such issue there in need of definite footing. But the problem arise when different debate going on for the international intervention in an issue. An example can be given, During NATO’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo, Security Council members were sharply divided; the legal justification for action without UN authority was asserted but largely unargued; and great misgivings surrounded the means by which the allies waged the war. Therefore, the question is asked when there is an incident of mass genocide which includes mass killing, rape and ethnic cleansing what our world do. They just seat around in their reviling chair and debate about the issue.

So that’s why there is a need of certain rules and regulation to protect the civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities. We can also bring the example that happened in Rwanda in 1994. Around 8, 00,000 people were butchered in just 100 days. In the war of Yugoslav around a quarter of a million and give the world a new phrase called “ethnic cleansing”. In 1995 7,500 hundred man and boys taken by Bosnian Serb forces and killed. But while the civilians taking a heavy blow through mass genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities what the world leaders do? Their responses are slow, timid and disjointed. So what they do? They just do a timed political activities and pseudo peacekeeping.

So for this reason, the secretary General of Un deeply troubled by the inconsistency of the international response has repeatedly challenged the General Assembly to find a way through these dilemmas. The fate of the world is repeatedly changing. When in the one part of the world us thinking about a change, a new invention in the field of art and science. On the other hand, other pole is thinking about chaos in the humanity. . So, they started to create and manufacture the weapon of mass killing. The humanity disgraced by this kind of practices. Lots of innocent people lose their life, lots of become refugee with no future. So for preventing this ferocious step against the humanity some step should be taken by the world community. So by this means a proposal has come, it calls Responsibility to protect or R2P or RtoP. 


The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a global political commitment which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit in order to address its four key concerns to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is articulated in 138-139 of world summit document.

 The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document serve as the basis for the inter-governmental agreement to the Responsibility to Protect. The General Assembly adopted the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document in its resolution 60/1 of 2005.


The Responsibility to protect consists of three important and mutually-reinforcing pillars, as articulated in the 2009 Report of the Secretary-General on the issue, and which build off of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document and the intergovernmental agreement to the principle:

  1. Pillar I: The protection responsibilities of the state;
  2. Pillar II: International assistance and capacity-building;
  3. Pillar III: Timely and decisive response                                                                               

Now we will be talking about the short history of Responsibility to protect:


It basically borne out in 1990s when the world community does not able to do anything about the slaughter in Rwanda in 1994 and the mass killing happened in Srebrenica in 1995[1]. As I mentioned earlier Kofi Anan was deeply concerned about this issue.

It again comes into scene in the crisis in 2000 when the African Union ask to intervene by their constitutional power articled in 4(h) [2, 3].

In September 2000, the Canadian government established “The international Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” (ICISS) to answer the Question thrown By Mr. Kofi Annan on the verge of intervention when a state are in a chaos [4].

Later on, In 2001 ICISS released a report about “The responsibility to Protect “mentioning some fact issues [5].

As the ICISS report was released in 2001, right around the time of the Second Gulf War, many thought that would be the end of this new norm. However, at the 2005 World Summit, where the largest number of heads of state and government in the history of the UN convened, the R2P was unanimously adopted [6].

On 12 January 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report entitled Implementing the Responsibility to Protect. Here is the short history about how this R2P came into effect. It’s a crying need for humanity to save themselves from mass atrocities.


The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy for the Responsibility to protect. The Centre is based at the Graduate Centre, CUNY, New York City with an office also located in Geneva [7].

This centre works with:

  1. United Nations: As It was officially documented Form of Article 138-139. They are actively working for the development and Implement of R2P.
  2. Security Council: This council have handled many situations related with R2P. As example Crisis in Darfur, in Libya.
  3. Secretary General Reports. And lastly,
  4. Special Advisor on the prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to protect.

This couple of organization or body are working relentlessly for implementation and development of Responsibility to protect.

  • Responsibility to protect is a very different term than Humanitarian Intervention. It basically stand for the human degradation like Genocide, war crimes, crime against humanity and Ethnic cleansing first borne in Serb mass Murder happened in 1995. 

So now we will talk about the How this R2P practiced among different Countries in different Time.

  • R2P in practice in different countries:

Kenya 2007-08:  There was a wave of ethnic cleansing triggered by disputed president election held on 21st December, 2007. This ethnic violence causes the death of 1000 civilians. Around 500,000 civilians were displaced. [10] External intervention needed there and Kofi Anan accepted this proposal.

Ivory Coast-2011: On March 30, 2011 the verge of violence started during post election. To protect civilian of Ivory Coast United Nations Operations in Ivory Coast (UNOCI), was initiated in guise of R2P.And by this operation President Gbagbo was transferred to International Criminal Court (ICC) [11].

Libya 2011: Libya is the first case where the Security Council authorized a military intervention. It is in response to Muammar al Kaddafi’s continued assault on the civilians. [Libya and responsibility protect by Irwin cotler].

Central Africa Republic in 2013[12]

Syria: Over the last seven years, Syria has been in constant conflict, which has led to the death of 500,000 people, 5 million refugees, and 7 million internally displaced persons. To help stop these atrocities International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the UN, European Union and the league of Arab states as well as other countries, had agreed to meet to discuss the situation at stake. The conclusion was made that the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which increased the delivery of humanitarian aid, as well as a nationwide cessation of hostilities, was required in order to help those in need[13].

Burundi: The country of Burundi is at verge of civil war. The mass atrocities will happened there if the ongoing political dispute doesn’t came to an end. . Violence had increased after President Pierre Nkurnziza had announced he was seeking a third term in the country’s elections. So an immediate intervention of R2P is needed there. [14]

After all of those I write above, let’s come to R2P’s praise and its negativity.

Praise of R2P: R2P is basically a term that is different from humanitarian intervention. It basically first and foremost a preventive measures whereas humanitarian intervention only refers to use of military forces. [15]

Another thing to be noted R2P just only focuses on mass atrocity crimes like genocide, war crimes, crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing [16]. So it doesn’t deal about every possible chaos that happens to the civilians of a country. We can give the example of Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Burundi and Yemen. So when the civilians of a sovereign country are endangered with mass atrocities like genocide, war crimes, crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing R2P is like a disguised blessing to them.

We can also give the recent example of Rohingya Issue. Seriously speaking it is not a issue very recent, it’s like a parasite but no one actually willing to get rid of it, A lots of people lose their life in the mass genocide. Lots of Genocidal rape happens. Lots of people being misplaced but the world leaders are shamelessly mute about this issue. So the Security Council want to act to bring a permanent solution of the conflict [UNHR, flash report].

So my point is If R2P is used as what in the report published by ICISS says it can bring a revolutionary change to decrease the oppression against Humanity.

Let’s finish this praising of R2P by some famous quotes,

Anne-Marie Slaughter from Princeton University has called R2P “the most important shift in our conception of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. [17]

Louise Arbour from the International Crisis Group said that “The responsibility to protect is the most important and imaginative doctrine to emerge on the international scene for decades”. [18]

Criticism of R2P:

There is lot to talk about the demerits of responsibility to protect. As this R2P directly concerns to save the civilians from 4 major crimes, but it have so many faults in it.

  1. Structural Fault: Political scientist Roland Paris, a proponent of R2P, argues that several problems regarding usefulness and legitimacy inherent to R2P make it vulnerable to criticism: “the more R2P is employed as a basis for military action, the more likely it is to be discredited, but paradoxically, the same will hold true if R2P’s coercive tools go unused. Paris lists the following problems as inherent to R2P, making it difficult for proponents of R2P to defend R2P and emboldening critics [19]

The faults are shortly:

  • The mixed-motives problem –The motive of R2P is an altruistic one. But the problem arises when the state want to mix it up with humanitarian intervention.
  • The counterfactual problem –The counter factuality always rises. If R2P become successful in any situation, there is no clear-cut evidence of winning it. So the Defenders of R2P consequently have to rely on counterfactual arguments.
  • The conspicuous harm problem – When the result of intervention is not so clear, the question arises about the damages of intervention. But it was firstly stated for the prevention.


One of the main concerns surrounding R2P is that it infringes upon national sovereignty [20].This concern is rebutted by the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the report implementing the Responsibility to Protect. According to the first pillar of R2P, the state has the responsibility to protect its populations from mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing, and according to the second pillar the international community has the responsibility to help states fulfil their responsibility. But the R2P can be infringement to national Sovereignty [20]

Last to say about R2P the question of military invention is quite controversial. Some states are arguing about not applying military in such cases, because do so it’s an infringement to national sovereignty. So the military intervention remains cloudy as the third pillar of R2P.


I would like to finish this long article with a high note. Being declared in 2005 the R2P isn’t totally successful yet. It’s because of some difficulties. We have to look out while R2P is always going to face some degree of opposition at the UN.As some countries have some tacky record with human rights. We have to be careful about why this R2P made to save the civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. We have watch out for that it can be used as “Trojan Horse” to conceal the western agenda of regime change under the guise of human rights. If all the procedures maintain properly R2P can be a great weapon for saving the humanity. If the spoilt world leaders misused it, It can turn into a ticking time bomb: Ready for oppression.



1. http://www.biography.com/people/kofi-annan-9185694

2. http://www.nai.uu.se/publications/series/notes/978-91-7106-642-8.pdf

3. “Constitutive Acts of the African Union”. Documents and speeches. African Union Summit, South Africa 2002. Archived from the original on 2012-01-06. Retrieved 2012-01-07.

4. Haines, Steven; Kassimeris, George, ed. (2010), “Chapter 18, Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and the Use of Force”, The Ashgate research companion to modern warfare, Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, pp. 307–329, ISBN 978-0-7546-7410-8

5. Mooney, Erin (2010). “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrrowed…Something Blue? The Protection Potential of a Marriage of Concepts between R2P and IDP Protection”. Global Responsibility to Protect. 2: 74

6. http://www.who.int/hiv/universalaccess2010/worldsummit.pdf.

7. About Us, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

8. http://www.globalr2p.org/media/files/libyaandr2poccasionalpaper-1.pdf

9. The Responsibility to Protect and International Law”. brill.com

10. “The Crisis in Kenya”. responsibilitytoprotect.org.

11. “Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire”. responsibilitytoprotect.org.

12. “Crisis in CAR”. responsibilitytoprotect.org

13. “Populations at Risk: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect”. www.globalr2p.org. Retrieved 2016-04-25.

14. “Burundi”. www.globalr2p.org. Retrieved 2016-04-25

16. https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/1994/674 Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine.

17. World Archipelago. “Macmillan”.

18. “Gareth Evans – The Responsibility to Protect”

19. “Responsibility to Protect: The ‘Real’ Debate on R2P – STWR – Share The World’s Resources”. stwr.org.

20. Moran, Rick; Horowitz, David, editor (March 28, 2011). “Libya and the Soros Doctrine”. FrontPage Mag. Retrieved January 7, 2012

Further Reading:

 Weiss, Thomas G (2004). “‘The Sunset of Humanitarian Intervention? The Responsibility to Protect in a Unipolar Era'”. Security Dialogue. 35 (2): 135–153. doi:10.1177/0967010604044973 [1]

 Bellamy, Alex J (2006). “‘Whither the Responsibility to Protect: Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit'”. Ethics and International Affairs. 20 (2): 143–177. doi:10.1111/j.1747-7093.2006.00012.x.

 Bellamy, A. J. (2008). “‘Conflict prevention and the responsibility to protect'”. Global Governance. (2): 135–156.

 Bellamy, Alex J (2008). “‘The Responsibility to Protect and the problem of military intervention'”. International Affairs. (4): 615–639. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2008.00729.x.

 Bellamy, A. J. (2009). “‘Realizing the Responsibility to Protect'”. International Studies Perspectives. 111–128. doi:10.1111/j.1528-3585.2009.00365.x.

 Bellamy, Alex J. 2009. Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities, Cambridge: Polity.


Written By:

Atiqul Islam Shakil, Student of 4th year, Department of law, University of Chittagong

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