Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century


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Skip to main content Skip to table of contents. Advertisement Hide. Front Matter Pages i-xiii. Introduction The Responsibility to Protect. Richard H. Pages Front Matter Pages The Responsibility to Protect. Sapna has a record of driving impact in complex decision-making environments. Member States, and public education initiatives and events. Sapna is an expert contributor to global and regional discussions on mass genocide and atrocity crimes, conflict prevention and peacebuilding, including discussions on how the UN should move forward on mainstreaming prevention, strengthening institutions through civil society collaboration at the domestic and regional levels, assessing risk in a variety of country crisis situations and recommending courses of action for diverse stakeholders.

Achieving greater consistency in its enforcement would help the international community protect the legitimacy of its humanitarian bedrock and viably address qualifying emergencies in the future. First, I would like to thank my advisor, Professor Thania Sanchez, without whose guidance and positivity I would not have been able to produce this thesis. I am also very grateful to the Yale Political Science Department and Professor David Simon, who provided me with invaluable feedback and support. I would also like to thank Mrs. Aikaterini Tzima, an exemplary diplomat and astounding mentor under whose direction at the United Nations I was inspired to research this topic.

To my amazing friends at Saybrook College, your love and support kept me going this challenging semester. Finally, I would like to thank my brother and best friend, Andreas; this thesis is dedicated to you.

Intergovernmental organizations, states, NGOs, and civil society have all employed it on multiple occasions to demand or legitimize international action against atrocity crimes conducted within the borders of a state. 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, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.

We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out. Yet heated debate and controversy have surrounded R2P since its inception, as many commentators have struggled to understand its place in international law and have expressed reservations about the coercive measures that can be applied under the third pillar.

Through this analysis, I argue that R2P functions as an ephemeral foreign policy tool and is best understood through the lens of realism in international relations IR theory, which views states as constantly competing for power and relative security in an anarchic system. I consequently argue that this indeterminate framework allows states to appropriate R2P as a realist device and inconsistently employ it on a selective, case-by-case basis that favors their interests.

The existence of forgotten or ignored crises involving atrocity crimes delegitimizes the cases when international intervention occurs to protect civilians as self-interested invasions by powerful states. I thus contend that the national realist appropriation of this international liberal concept leads to an inconsistency that discredits its humanitarian objectives as unilateral foreign policy decisions.

The debate surrounding R2P should therefore be reformulated, shifting the focus from one-sided legalistic and moralist arguments to a practical understanding of how to normalize its application.

The Lens of IR Theory & Strategic Choice

In order to better grasp and overcome the complications that arise from the application of the third pillar, it is first necessary to understand why certain calls for action against atrocity crimes elicit an international armed response while others remain unaddressed. Only after addressing this underlying issue can the operational aspects of intervention under R2P be properly resolved.

In order to understand why R2P faces a looming crisis of legitimacy, this analysis aims to transcend traditional barriers between liberalism and realism in IR theory. I adopt a combinational approach that accepts the inherent realism in state behavior, but purports that national foreign policy often serves liberal internationalism with success. The research thus aspires to contribute to the evolution of realist theory and to productive dialogue between realists and liberals with regard to the dynamics and potential of international institutions.

The internalization of codes of conduct, jurisdictional determinacy and specificity, the record of adherence by states, and punitive and incentive mechanisms are all factors that shape this process.


  • The Responsibility to React.
  • The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century;
  • Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener.
  • Atrocity Crimes and their Relationship to the Responsibility to Protect;
  • Border Crossing: A Spiritual Journey.

Under this framework, I ascribe to a reasoning that focuses on the realist enforceability of R2P as a tenet of institutional liberalism, rather than on its precise legal label in international law. I recognize that the legal ambiguity of R2P and the debate over its interpretation are conducive to its inconsistent application, yet I do not espouse legalism, which advances strict adherence to the law and searches for prescriptive legal solutions.

The research does not concern itself as much with the legal right of states to intervene under the third pillar as with their political will to do so from an IR standpoint. A thorough investigation of the challenges that R2P faces must begin by identifying its normative foundations, which are deeply rooted in tenets of liberalism, and particularly institutional liberalism, as encountered in traditional IR theory.

In institutional terms, this concept derives legitimacy from and simultaneously interacts with an elaborate legal apparatus pertaining to state sovereignty, human rights, and intergovernmental cooperation. R2P originated in the s, when the international community faced a major backlash of popular humanitarian sentiment due to repeated failures in responding to mass atrocities in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo.

Regardless of such obstacles, by the turn of the century, the theoretical underpinnings of R2P had made their way into the language of world leaders. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

In this context, R2P has been envisioned and articulated against an elaborate institutional and legal backdrop that is essential to its function: the complex system of international laws and institutions. Military intervention for human protection purposes is an exceptional and extraordinary measure. To be warranted, there must be serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings, or imminently likely to occur, of the following kind: A. When the responsibility was mapped out in the WSO, it was limited to the four atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

More importantly, it attached this agenda to a series of institutions that form the core of the postwar international legal regime. Serbia and Montenegro , in which it is stated that: [39]. A State does not incur responsibility simply because the desired result is not achieved; responsibility is however incurred if the State manifestly failed to take all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power….

Included in these means to prevent genocide is recourse to any and all available domestic remedies and subsequently to the international community, a solution to which the signatory state has ascribed as a last resort by signing the Convention. These two articles in tandem establish that signatories must prevent and punish war crimes committed against unprotected civilians even in the case of domestic conflicts, granting legitimacy to the first, second, and potentially third pillar.

Following Ways of Life: The Responsibility to Protect

Of the utmost importance in considering action under the third pillar is Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which grants the UNSC the right to determine what qualifies as a threat to international peace and security Article 39 , as well as legally authorize the use of force against a state without consent Article The third pillar of R2P is best explained as a global understanding that certain states will be unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities, resulting in situations where international action is required.

The growing influence of international civil society, intensifying globalization, and the increasing feasibility of interventionism due to interdependence networks and technology can help contextualize the character of R2P, which draws directly from liberalism in IR theory. Such action therefore endorses an ideology of institutional liberalism, which supports cooperation in international relations, such as third pillar intervention to stop atrocity crimes, through international institutions and organizations, such as R2P and the UN.

Just as the substance of human rights law is coming increasingly closer to realizing the notion of universal justice — justice without borders — so too is the process.

Responsibility to Protect, The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century - Dimensions

Such a vision of global governance, as liberal and law-enabled, not only flirts with imperialistic moralism and myopic legalism, but also prioritizes traditional and asymmetric power dynamics between states. R2P emerged from the tempestuous international experience with atrocity crimes in the s and built its liberal narrative on the extensive legal apparatus analyzed above. Nevertheless, realist dynamics that oppose institutional liberalism severely jeopardize its implementation and lead to its inconsistent and selective application, which foreshadows its delegitimation by states.

Before exploring these inhibitory realist politics in more detail, the legal ambiguity and scholarly dispute that plague R2P warrant special attention, as they contribute to a defective institutional environment in which states can employ this doctrine in erratic and dubious ways. The legalism that permeates this debate and the struggle to attribute a label to this agenda ultimately offer no answer to the problem of inconsistency and ignore the formative influence of political power and interests.

A plethora of views exist about the precise legal nature of R2P, although all fall under a strong consensus on its nonbinding and political character, making it much easier to define the concept in negative terms. Unequivocally, it is not a primary source of international law, as it only appears in non-binding and ancillary sources, such as UNGA declarations, SG reports, and legal scholarship, and is absent from all formal ones, such as treaties, customs, and principles.

The liberal theoretical claims upon which R2P rests not only contribute to this paralyzing uncertainty about its legal nature, but they also come to odds with a fundamental principle of international law: state sovereignty. Article 2. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.

It logically follows that tensions exist between this provision and the activation of Article 42 under Chapter VII that authorizes the use of force. Governments have even criticized the first and second pillars of the WSO, arguing that information gathering, monitoring, and assessment activities conducted by the UN can constitute violations of sovereignty. The liberal contribution of this agenda to the normative architecture of the international community has thus produced major confusion and uncertainty.

Most notably, the ICC, which is supposed to complement the three pillars by prosecuting criminals involved in atrocity crimes, has incomplete membership and faces serious opposition by certain states, including the US. It is the realities of the international system that shape if and how a concept like R2P will function, first in the military and political battlefields, and consequently in the legal and institutional arenas.

As discussed in the following sections, the concept is presently exposed to the realist politics of state governments, which selectively employ the term at their discretion and in pursuit of their national interests on a case-by-case basis. The resulting inconsistency in practice threatens the very viability and legitimacy of R2P. The performance of R2P is therefore strong in liberal and ideological terms, mediocre at best in legal and institutional terms, and, as will be discussed in this section, poor in practical and political terms.

Time and again, the international community has confronted its limits in rallying political will for civilian protection, an agenda interpreted as an optional tool of diplomacy that legitimizes intervention if powerful preferences coincide with the requisite criteria.

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Before exploring empirical cases illustrative of this realist appropriation, it is important to consider the concept as a matter of strategic choice in rational foreign policymaking. Governments exercising their foreign policies do not deliberate over whether R2P is a norm, a provision of soft law, or an emerging custom.

They identify it as a non-binding and optional path, and may therefore operate within this framework to achieve the best possible result for their national preferences. It can be expected that anytime political will and military capacity overlap, states will engage in intervention to protect civilians. It would be a gross oversimplification to condemn this entire agenda as a neo-colonial ruse that exposes weaker states against the predatory military powers vociferously pursuing their national interests.

In the remainder of this section, the effect of these scenarios on the legitimacy and viability of R2P are explored through empirical case studies.

Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century
Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century

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