The Responsibility to Protect – Questions and Answers?

23 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2013

See all articles by Joe McMahon

Joe McMahon

School of Law, University College Dublin

Date Written: September 02, 2013


The traditional Westphalian concept of sovereignty implies non-interference in the domestic affairs of a State by another State or group of States and finds expression in Article 2(7) of the Charter of the United Nations. The preoccupation with sovereignty evident in these provisions was very much the agenda of the twentieth century. As the twenty-first century began, however, questions were asked about the scope of concept of sovereignty not only as a result of the growing emergence of international human rights but, more significantly, the need for a more coordinated international response to various humanitarian crises of the 1990s. The focus on sovereignty had not prevented the UN from engaging in humanitarian intervention but what was different for the twenty-first century was the perceived need to establish a series of principles that would guide such intervention to ensure consistency in UN action. A starting point for this search for principles was the 2001 Report of International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), an initiative of the Canadian Government advocating the R2P principle. The Report is discussed in Part II, before the focus shifts to the UN with a discussion of the 2004 Report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, the Secretary-General’s Report on the Millennium Declaration and the results of the 2005 World Summit which are all addressed in Part III. Part IV examines the implementation of the emerging principle both generally through the Resolutions of the Security Council on the protection of civilians and the application of R2P to the situations arising in Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and as a result of the Arab Spring. The Conclusion offers some answers to the questions arising from the responsibility to protect.

Keywords: International law, responsibility to protect, ICISS report, World Summit Outcome, protection of civilians, humanitarian intervention, Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Mali

Suggested Citation

McMahon, Joseph, The Responsibility to Protect – Questions and Answers? (September 02, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Joseph McMahon (Contact Author)

School of Law, University College Dublin ( email )

Dublin 4

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