‘Responsibility to Protect: From Concept to Implementation’
‘Responsibility to Protect: From Concept to Implementation’
Address by Mr Peter Power, T.D
Minister of State for Overseas Development at the Department of Foreign Affairs
Royal Irish Academy Committee for International Affairs
Annual Conference, 21 November 2008
Chairman, distinguished guests, I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this discussion on what is one of the leading challenges of our time – implementing and giving effect to the responsibility to protect, one of the most significant conceptual developments in international law and practice since the promulgation of the United Nations Charter in 1945.
In recent years, the failure of the international community to protect vulnerable populations from mass atrocities has provoked horror, shame and remorse. The development of the doctrine of responsibility to protect cannot atone for past failures. But it can ensure that every stakeholder – governments and their leaders, the international community and the Security Council – is aware of their roles, obligations and responsibilities when faced with the threat of the four specific crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
If applied correctly, it can assist in prevention, facilitate a timely, coherent and effective international response if required, and ultimately act as deterrent to the perpetuation of these crimes.
R2P is firmly based on the evolving precepts of international humanitarian law, particularly the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Conceptually, it offers a new perspective on the relationship of the individual to the international order, formerly exclusively mediated by the state.
Heads of State and Government at the 2005 World Summit held at the United Nations unanimously agreed that R2P rests on three pillars:
1) the responsibility of the State to protect its population from
genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against
2) the responsibility of the international community to assist States in meeting these obligations, including through capacity building;
and 3), where States are manifestly failing to provide such protection, the responsibility of the international community to respond in a timely and decisive manner to ensure protection in accordance with international law and in particular with the UN Charter.
As these three pillars demonstrate, R2P is not a licence for interventionism as is sometimes charged. It is a response which carefully places the primary responsibility on the state concerned in the first instance.
The catalysts for R2P were the terrible events in Rwanda and Bosnia. These came as ominous reminders of the potential for crimes against humanity in areas of fragility, ethnic tension and unresolved conflicts. Any casual student of history would know this of course. The surprise lay in the ineffectiveness of the international response. There seemed to be a fatal weakness in the system when it came to giving effect to the post World War II imperative of “never again”.
The weakness lay in the understandable deference toward the fundamental building block of the international order, the notion of the sovereignty of the nation state. The question was how to balance this deference, quite legitimate for normal diplomatic relations, with the growing body of international and human rights law and its attendant imperatives.
The terrible events of the 1990s, then, forced the international community to face up to the apparent, and I stress the word apparent, conflict between respecting sovereignty and preventing crimes against humanity, like genocide.
In short, the international community had to reconceptualise a notion of unfettered national sovereignty, which had its roots in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This process was of course complicated by the sensitivities of many decolonised states intent on guarding their new found sovereignty.
It should be pointed out that many African countries are to the fore in advancing the debate on how to operationalise R2P. Indeed, the Constitutive Act of the African Union which predated the 2005 World Summit by three years expressly endorsed the concept of the right of the Union to intervene in a member state in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
To those critics of R2P who argue that the concept fatally undermines sovereignty, the bedrock of international order in the modern era, I would make three points.
Firstly we must ensure that the 21st century does not repeat the catastrophies of the 20th.
Secondly, if the body of international humanitarian law and associated rights is to have any meaning, its values must be supported and defended where they are most threatened.
Developing the capacity of states to implement the human rights obligations that many of them have assumed by becoming parties to important human rights treaties, thereby extending these protections more widely to their populations, is no threat to sovereignty.
We can work to address causes of conflict that, if left unchecked, could lead to the commission of serious crimes as well as human rights violations, without in any way undermining the role of the sovereign state.
Thirdly, the need for collective security which informed the architects of the new international order in 1945 has been given added urgency by globalisation and our increasing mutual interdependence.
R2P is a conceptual framework within which States, in the exercise of sovereignty, have a responsibility to protect their populations from the worst crimes and to prevent the commission of those crimes. All States have accepted that responsibility and have agreed to act in accordance with it.
The international community as a whole has agreed to encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability. In other words, we have now reached an understanding of sovereignty that has, as an inherent element of its exercise, the responsibility of the State to protect its citizens.
And in circumstances where a State is unable to protect its people from the threat of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, it has a responsibility to seek assistance from others, so that it can honour its responsibility to protect them.
Failing that call for assistance, the responsibility to protect falls on the international community, acting in accordance with international law, as the protector of last resort. By any measure, mass crime is a legitimate interest of the international community.
Any action under these three pillars, including particularly the third pillar, can only be undertaken in full compliance with the UN Charter.
Responsibility to Protect has prevention as its keystone. Bearing this in mind, those of us who support the doctrine perhaps need to do more to convince doubters that R2P is not a stalking horse for military intervention or quasi-colonial adventures to be invoked at the whim of western nations.
It is about ensuring that all states have the ability to protect their own people.
It is about the responsibility of stronger nations to assist weak states develop their capacity to protect their populations.
It is about the responsibility of the international community to show solidarity with its weaker members to ensure that men, women and children, regardless of where they call home, can be assured equal protection from the threat of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Ultimately, of course, R2P implies that where a State manifestly fails to fulfil its responsibility to its people, there is provision for action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
But it must be emphasised that this is not a carte blanche for military action. It does not in any way extend the circumstances in which the use of force is lawful under international law.
Frankly, I think some rather loose talk about invoking the R2P principle – for example in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis last spring – has not helped build wider acceptance of the concept.
But equally it is worrying that some Members of the Security Council – both permanent and non-permanent - have continued to address issues such as Burma and Zimbabwe in ways which seem to suggest that sovereignty remains absolute, and to indicate a possible hostility on their part to acting on the basis of R2P even in the most extreme circumstances.
The reality is that the true test of the solidity and meaningfulness of R2P will only come when the international community – and specifically the Security Council – is faced with a stark choice, when there is clear and incontrovertible evidence that a state is failing to protect its citizens from genocide or crimes against humanity.
Pending that day, we must now do all we can to prepare. In the first instance, we must move from theory to concrete practical actions. In this regard, Ireland welcomes the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s commitment to focus on this issue. In his recent address to the UN General Assembly, he reaffirmed that developing R2P in a practical and operational sense is one of his priorities.
Building on the work started by Gareth Evans, who we are privileged to have here today, Edward Luck, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, working with Mr Francis Deng, is preparing a report on how R2P might be operationalised. This Report will give direction and focus to the international community in strengthening the operation of this vital tool. Ireland will cooperate with the UN Secretary-General and support his efforts.
Our Permanent Mission to the UN in New York is already active in this regard. We will continue to participate actively in developing the concept as the process of operationalising it unfolds at UN headquarters.
A number of UN member states from all continents are strongly committed to advancing R2P. Ireland is one of them. It is important at the same time for the sake of building general acceptability, and legitimacy for an implementing framework for R2P, that the broad membership proceed together in this important endeavour.
While we await the Report of the Special Advisor, States do not remain idle. They are active under the rubric of justice and security to develop mechanisms to give practical application to R2P. Ireland is playing its part in this regard.
Irish foreign policy illustrates the strong attachment of successive Irish Governments to the concepts central to R2P.
Committed to the international rule of law, Ireland has long been a strong supporter of international human rights bodies and monitoring mechanisms. These form an integral part of the existing early warning system for potential threats of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Irish peacekeepers have served with distinction in UN peacekeeping operations, and have often paid the ultimate price, in protecting populations from threats to their security.
Through the work of Irish Aid, Ireland has been actively developing the capacities of developing states to serve and protect their population.
The establishment of a Conflict Resolution Unit (CRU) within the Department of Foreign Affairs will augment our determination to assist the international community’s efforts under R2P.
The CRU is contributing to the R2P objective of assisting States develop their own capacity to protect their populations through, for example, early warning and conflict prevention.
Of course in undertaking this new initiative, we are working with our multilateral partners, including the United Nations. We have focused particularly on peace making, peace building and lesson sharing. We have provided, for example, direct support to the UN’s Mediation Support Unit, the Peace Building Commission and the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.
Our pilot conflict resolution in Timor Leste illustrates how on a bi-lateral basis we support initiatives that are complementary to the existing Irish Aid development assistance programme there. Working closely with the Government of Timor-Leste and the UN, there is a strong emphasis on developing local capacity to track and respond to issues likely to give rise to conflict.
Projects being supported by Ireland include the development of an early-warning system which will strengthen the capacity of civil society and the Government to understand sources of tension and respond appropriately. Indeed, developing conflict early-warning systems is one of the key elements pointed to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.
The Irish Government has appointed a Special Envoy to work with the Government of Timor-Leste and the UN in strengthening the capacity of the Government of Timor-Leste to serve and protect its own people. Work in this area includes strengthening governance and the justice sector, enhancing the rule of law, and supporting the development of an effective accountable police force.
R2P envisions a wide spectrum of tools and instruments. These can only be effective through international and regional cooperation. Regionally for Ireland this means working with the European Union.
We are actively exploring opportunities to work with the European Union and believe that scope exists in the area of mediation capacity building, for example, and expanding the kind of expertise we make available under the ESDP’s Civilian Headline Goal.
Reflecting on the EU as an instrument for R2P brings us full circle, back to the origins of the current international order and the overarching imperative captured by the declaration “never again” when the full horror of the holocaust became apparent.
Europe was the scene of the greatest and most organised effort at genocide that the world has witnessed. It was made all the more grotesque by Europe’s standing as a leading centre of high art and civilisation. Out of this most egregious crime grew the initiative for one of the world’s most successful examples of international support and cooperation.
The European Union is a manifestation of conflict prevention through social, economic and political cooperation. It was conceived as a way of avoiding further wars in Europe and rebuilding a continent ruined by conflict, it has promulgated laws and human rights to serve and protect the populations of its Member States.
It has moreover, contributed significantly to international peace and security, acting coherently within the UN and offering overseas humanitarian and development assistance, making it the largest donor in the world.
The pride of the EU in these achievements was severely shaken by the wars in the Balkans. The prevailing international response, the framework for collective action, fell fatally short. R2P now provides that framework.
With the ongoing developments of CFSP and ESDP, through crisis
management operations and capacity-building activities, the EU is
bringing international support to countries to help ensure the
protection of their populations.
The EU is therefore making a robust contribution to the new vision of international security offered by the United Nations and a multiplicity of regional multilateral organisations.
This vision is based on the notion of collective security governed by the rule of international law and guided by a formal normative framework encompassing an agreed canon of human rights which, under R2P, take precedence over traditional claims to the inviolability of state sovereignty.
This is by any measure a paradigm shift. Of course, it is yet a fragile concept, untested so far. Its three pillars deserve full implementation, for each act in support of the other. It would be a fatal mistake, for example, to simply rely in extremis on the third pillar of international intervention.
R2P is part of a matrix that includes not just international laws and institutions such as the Security Council and the International Criminal Court, but the strength of the judicial and security systems within states. These in turn depend on good governance which itself is grounded in social and economic development.
For the international community now accepts Kofi Annan’s compelling thesis that rights, development and security are interlocking objectives, none sustainable without progress in the others.
R2P represents a major step forward in assisting all States in developing and maintaining the rule of law and in promoting the role of human rights as a benchmark for international action.
Armed with it, we have a new and powerful new instrument which can close a sorry chapter in human history when vowing “never again” was not enough.