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The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention in Africa

Global Responsibility to Protect 2(4) (2010) 371–387

17 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2012  

Jeremy Sarkin

University of South Africa

Date Written: August 3, 2012


This essay investigates the connection between humanitarian intervention and R2P within an historical, legal, and conceptual context. It challenges the widely held view that Africa lacks the capacity to intervene in areas of conflict and human rights violations, arguing instead that the continent possesses the will and instruments to protect human rights. The author notes that, while the UN Security Council retains the primary responsibility for promoting global peace and security, the R2P norm remains contested even within the UN. The ECOWAS interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s were initially undertaken without UN approval, but were later sanctioned by the world body. These interventions undermined the idea of state sovereignty as independence from external interventions, which had previously constrained humanitarian missions in Africa. However, the essay argues that the R2P principle was boosted by the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute persons suspected of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and/or genocide. In addition, the intervention clause in the AU’s Constitutive Act of 2000 supports the R2P principle while prohibiting unilateral interventions. Notwithstanding these developments, the author notes that the AU and Africa’s regional bodies still have a long way to go in translating the R2P doctrine into practice.

Keywords: Humanitarian intervention, human rights, African Union, AU Constitutive Act, international peacekeeping, ECOWAS, UN approval, International Criminal Court, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, implementing R2P, United Nations, responsibility to protect, Africa

Suggested Citation

Sarkin, Jeremy, The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention in Africa (August 3, 2012). Global Responsibility to Protect 2(4) (2010) 371–387. Available at SSRN:

Jeremy Sarkin (Contact Author)

University of South Africa ( email )

P.O. Box 392
Pretoria, Gauteng 0003
South Africa

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