This guest post was written by Lucas Sageot-Chomel. Lucas is a graduate student in Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, and holds a dual B.A. from Mercyhurst University in Political Science and Sociology. He specializes in Global Health/Human Security, and conflict management/resolution. Lucas has keen interests in post-conflict state reconstruction and sustainability, focusing on capacity building for democratic consolidation and social changes as well as the protection of civilians. Lucas is fluent in French and English, and has a working knowledge of Spanish. He interned for a non-profit (business development), a social media company, a permanent delegation to the UNHQ, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and currently works for the Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy as a business/marketing associate. Follow him on twitter @L_SageotChomel


R2P, the birth of a norm

Since the beginning of times, human kind has been inclined to violence. Survival in mind, hunters would go face man slaying creatures and barricade their village against Mother Nature. To know that your family would make it to the next spring was the key concern for all adult since time immemorial. With the state of the world in the past decade, we can safely assume that things have not changed a single bit. Millions of civilians today have to face armed groups, abusive governments, and most importantly, an irresponsive international community.

However, glimmers of hope have appeared in the global world that we live in. After witnessing the distress and mass killing of thousands in Srebrenica (Kosovo), the Cambodian killing fields, the genocide in Rwanda, and many other atrocity scenes, many members of the international community decided that it was time to build around civilians, not on top of them or their graves. At the UN World Summit of 2005, all governments unanimously agreed to protect populations against genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing – the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was born. It was the first time that all represented members recognized a new, revised notion of sovereignty and a responsibility to prevent major atrocities to be enacted in their own societies. Since then, the idea of R2P has been building the foundation of an international shield for civilians, at least on paper.

Implementation of the norm – a bumpy road

The core of the R2P concept lays within three pillars: first, that states have the primary responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes; second, that the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance to states in building capacity to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes; and third, that the responsibility falls to the international community to take timely and decisive action to prevent and halt genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the case that a state is unwilling, or unable, to protect its populations.

While R2P has been criticized by some countries who see it as a breach of sovereignty, many others see it as a direct umbrella for human rights. One of the problem faced by humanitarian missions sent to relieve civilian populations is that of armed groups’ attacks. Countries who would want to see a humanitarian mission fulfill its mandate safely can gather around R2P and invoke it at the Security Council in order to send armed personnel to insure that relief is brought to populations and are protected from attacks. This idea however needs to be tempered; as a fairly new and developing concept, it needs to be understood as such. While scholars and advocacy groups have adopted it as a banner under which everyone should rally for a better world, others have described it as a way for large powerful actors to impose their agenda on the less fortunate. Some even described it as a way to pursue a neo-imperialist agenda.

The theoretical advances of R2P through the development of a network of countries –known as the Group of Friends of R2P (GoF) – reveals a true commitment by 46 states, including several small states such as Costa-Rica, Mali, Botswana that represent the same advocacy will and power as larger “friends of R2P” such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Evidently, R2P has gathered support throughout the 5 continents and so far has made its mark as a new era of protection for populations. The argument that the strong states will abuse of it can being the only true challenge in debates can be put to rest as the goal of R2P is to protect the weak, and the group of friends’ membership list can attest of that.

With 12 countries in Africa alone, including South Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, it is clear that states that have experienced violence against civilians have decided to join the R2P Group of Friends to create a safety net in case of further conflict. A decision that has in no way impeached them from running their respective governments the way they intend to. Membership to the GoF also show the will of a state to come clean regarding passed abuses or lack of capacity in crimes against civilians.

The next step for R2P – making history in the long run

Major challenges are still ahead for the concept of R2P. First, as new mass atrocity risk situations arise, the international community needs to keeps the consensus growing in the context of R2P; the scope and limitations of the norm need to be highlighted in order to gather all members of the United Nations so that misinterpretations do not occur and lead to potential veto usage at the UN Security Council. Second, there needs to be a will by all governmental and intergovernmental organization to orient their capacity –diplomatic, civilian, and military – toward the construction of an effective early warning system. Prevention of atrocities is always better than action. Lastly, there needs to be a commitment from international decision makers to encourage both governments and civil society to organize their agenda around the R2P – this would mean a secession of veto usage at the Security Council, as well as the establishment of the R2P liaison as an independent bureau, which would allow for effective cooperation in regards to early warning, as well as monitoring any conflict already underway.

R2P has a long way to go before achieving what it was designed to achieve. Such a concept can only be empowered by the current state of affairs in the world; from Syria to Nigeria, from Burma to South Sudan, the world needs to work together around this idea to stop, and prevent another wave of mass atrocities. Not only would it become its own norm, but other agenda items would also find their place under its umbrella – humanitarian missions would be more effective, civilian displacement would not occur in such high levels, and history books would be much more encouraging to read for the generations to come.

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