Ensuring a Responsibility to Protect: Lessons from Darfur
Jonathan Thompson Horowitz
Open Society Justice Initiative
Human Rights Brief, Vol 14, Issue 2, 2007
During his tenure, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed time and again that the principle of state sovereignty cannot be used as a shield for human rights abuses. Over time, lawyers, diplomats, elected officials, and civil societies have influenced the legal and moral foundations of the traditional concept of State sovereignty, seeking to foreclose this legal defense for domestic violations. Indeed it is now generally accepted that the United Nations Security Council (Security Council) can authorize forceful humanitarian intervention under its Chapter VII powers when it determines that widespread domestic human rights abuses are a threat to international peace and security.
Within this context, the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine (commonly referred to as R2P) emerged as a means to locate an appropriate legal balance between state sovereignty and human rights. Only recently formulated, the R2P doctrine seeks to ensure that states respond to the human needs of people within their territory or under their control, and to codify international responsibility to protect a state’s citizens in the event the state fails to fulfill its domestic obligations. In doing so, the R2P doctrine makes considerable contributions to defining state responsibilities under both human rights and international law.
This article provides a brief but crucial discussion of the R2P doctrine, its application to the conflict in Darfur, and suggestions for strengthening its implementation. As legally correct and morally compelling as humanitarian intervention is under the R2P doctrine, the ongoing crisis in Darfur demonstrates that state sovereignty can still trump human rights with little resulting consequence for the offending state. Darfur is one of the first situations where the media and diplomatic communities have invoked R2P, yet the subsequent actions and threats made pursuant to this doctrine have been largely ignored and rebuked by the Sudanese government. This first test of R2P reveals that the responsibility to protect remains an embryonic doctrine that is by no means self-executing and, at present, lacks the dexterity to overcome real world politics. But the R2P doctrine should not be seen as a failure. Like much of contemporary international law it needs time to evolve to achieve its maximum potential. Diplomats and politicians must learn how to use the doctrine, work towards its realization, and recognize the benefits it can produce in terms of conflict prevention and stability.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 5
Keywords: Darfur, Responsibility to Protect, R2P, sovereignty, United Nations, peacekeeping, Securty Council ResolutionAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 10, 2012 ; Last revised: March 4, 2013
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