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The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle was developed to ensure that significant atrocity crimes such as war crimes, forced displacement, genocides, and crimes against humanity are never


The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle was developed to ensure that significant atrocity crimes such as war crimes, forced displacement, genocides, and crimes against humanity are never again committed without the global community taking action. The disappointing response of the global community to the mass killings that occurred in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s gave rise to the concept of R2P. The International Committee against Intervention and State Sovereignty founded R2P in 2001.

The UN World Summit which is the largest gathering of Heads of State and Government ever adopted R2P in 2005.


The concept of responsibility to protect was created to make clear what the world community should do in the event of widespread crimes. There were three instances in the 1990s where the global community’s response revealed a lack of consensus regarding what can and should be done. The Security Council did nothing in 1994 when genocide broke out in Rwanda because it feared for the safety of the UN forces stationed there. “The Council reduced the number of peacekeepers from 2558 to 270.” Only after several weeks and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people did the Council approve the sending out of a feeble French military force.

Approximately 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by Serbs in 1995 when Srebrenica was under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The mission was to stop attacks on “safe zones,” but it was unable to save vulnerable cities. Finally, in reaction to the increase in violence against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the US, the UK, and France asked for permission to conduct a military operation. China and Russia, on the other hand, threatened to reject any resolutions that called for the use of force. In the end, they moved forward with the military intervention through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) without the approval of the Security Council.


The “idea of sovereignty” as accountability was initially put forth in 1993 by Francis Deng, the UN’s “Special Representative on Internally Displaced People” (IDP). According to Deng and his colleague Roberta Cohen, states should be in charge of protecting their citizens in the first instance, but there needs to be a higher international authority to which they will be held accountable if they don’t.

Similarly, “the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” defined sovereignty as a duty. The Commission claims that sovereignty entails a dual obligation. The sovereignty of other states must be respected by states on the outside. They have an internal duty to uphold the fundamental rights and dignity of every citizen of the state. State authorities have a responsibility under the concept of sovereignty to safeguard the welfare of their citizens as well as to protect their safety and lives. The increasing influence of international human rights standards and the idea of human security has led to this way of thinking about sovereignty. By focusing on the state’s primary obligation to defend its own population, R2P differs from the idea of humanitarian action. The novel notion that states should receive assistance from the international community in carrying out their obligations were introduced by the concept. As a result, it positioned armed intervention within a wider range of possible responses to mass atrocities and genocide.

According to international law, the Commission believes that the state whose citizens are directly impacted has a duty to protect first. Practical considerations are also essential because domestic authorities are better equipped to resolve issues when they arise. Meanwhile, the larger community of states has a residual obligation when a specific state is unwilling or unable to uphold its duty to protect or is actually the one committing crimes or atrocities; or when residents of another state are directly affected by events occurring in that state. As a result, the international community may occasionally need to act to protect communities that are in grave danger. This R2P is comprised of 3 critical elements: the requirement to prevent human atrocities, the duty to respond to a real or impending human catastrophe, and the duty to rebuild after the tragedy. The duty to protect therefore covers a wide range of assistance initiatives and responses, such as “both long and short-term measures to help prevent human security-threatening situations from happening, intensifying, spreading, or existing; and rebuilding support to help prevent them from repeating; as well as, at least in extreme cases, military intervention to protect vulnerable civilians from harm.”


In September 2003, the United Nation Secretary-General established the High-Level Panel Risks, Challenges, and Transition to assess the United Nation’s contribution to global security. This panel was created in response to the lack of agreement among Member States over the proper function of the UN in supplying collective security. The High-Level Panel acknowledged the duty to protect and described it as “an emerging norm” in its 2004 research “A More Secure World: Our Shared Duty.”

The Panel argued that there is a rising consensus that it is the primary duty of sovereign governments to safeguard their own citizens against calamities like mass murder and rape, ethnic cleansing through forced emigration and terror, intentional starvation, and disease exposure. However, when they are unable or unwilling to do so, the larger international community should assume that duty. In such cases, the global community should focus on violence prevention, violence response (if necessary), and social reconstruction.

Overall, it is clear that in the terms of the global community, the responsibility to protect has taken the place of the notion of humanitarian intervention. Furthermore, there is no debate regarding the states’ obligation to safeguard their populaces. What sets the responsibility to protect apart, though, is the global community’s need to defend people when a state blatantly fails to do so. And many states believe that it is this component of the duty to protect that is problematic. These nations disagree with the idea that when a state fails to protect its citizens, there is automatically an international obligation to protect them. The language of the official documents endorsing the obligation to safeguard reflects this.

States stated “in the World Summit Outcome adopted by the General Assembly that they are ready to act on an individual basis, and the Security Council has supported this in its resolutions. The Security Council didn’t even mention the international community’s duty to protect in the Libya case, which is the best illustration of how the idea is applied in reality. This shows that future debates will centre on the novelty that responsibility to safeguard brought to international relations.”


R2P is a brand-new, developing norm whose strength comes in its capacity to successfully defend populations at risk of mass atrocity crimes. R2P is still in the second stage of the Finnemore and Sikkink-described norm life cycle. Its evolution is remarkable given how recently it was created. Despite conforming to existing IHL principles, it has not yet developed into a binding IHL but has the potential to do so in the future. The international community as a whole is quickly coming to terms with the fact that it has the fundamental moral obligation to protect itself. There is little doubt that views in states are changing in favour of taking primary responsibility for their own people as well as secondary duty for at-risk groups worldwide. It is unclear if this willingness is the consequence of a nuanced combination of factors, including self-interest brought on by the amplifying effects of domestic conflicts in a world that is becoming more globally connected and interdependent, geopolitical security concerns, or true humanitarian obligation. The norms approach is more credible since traditional IR theory falls short of explaining how the international community has changed its behaviour with regard to intervention and human protection. According to Evans, R2P is the greatest place to start for the global community in preventing and combating crimes against humanity like genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. The power of R2P lies in its ability to change the opportunistic ambivalence of official reactions to major atrocity crimes in the 1990s into a truly moral and legal commitment to protect at-risk people around the world.

Author(s) Name: Anant Gupta (Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur)