Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Responsibility to Protect (R2P) agreement

The United Nations Summit in September 2005 agreed on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which commits the UN to taking action to protect people from such crimes as ethnic cleansing and genocide. This agreement would justify such actions as were taken militarily in Bosnia-Herzegovina and latterly Kosovo. It could have given more impetus to intervene in Ruanda, and may well be primarily aimed at future events in central Africa.

The Summit resolved that "Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes... we are prepared to take collective action, should peaceful means be inadequate..."

This establishes the principle that governments have a duty to protect their citizens' lives and rights, and if they fail to do so, or indeed if it is a government that is actually committing those crimes, it loses its legitimacy and that the community of nations will take on that protection role even if it means infringing the sovereignty of the state.

This is an important and historic step, a change to the doctrine of sovereignty that can be traced back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. No-one who cares about humanity can mourn the demise of the idea that regimes can do exactly as they please with those who lie in their power, but on the other hand, both the political environment and the way in which R2P will be worked out needs close inspection and development.


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