R2P and the Global Summit

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                         R2P and the Global Summit
                                                   Ernie Regehr
                                                  September 2005

The expectation that the emerging global norm of            dealt a critical setback just three weeks before the
“the responsibility to protect” (R2P) will be given         summit when the United States, through
added political energy at the September 14-16 World         Ambassador John Bolton, proposed extensive
Summit is increasingly in doubt. At the preparatory         amendments to the key R2P paragraph. One
talks in New York, a small group of states (not more        proposed change is the welcome extension of the list
than about 10 per cent, but including the US) is            of crimes from which people need protection to
resisting the inclusion of the basic R2P doctrine –         include “other large-scale atrocities” – making the
the understanding that people in extraordinary peril        point that help to the vulnerable does not depend on
have a right to protection, and that if their own           a technical definition of genocide or crimes against
government cannot or will not provide such                  humanity, but should come in response to any large-
protection, then the international community has the        scale catastrophe.
responsibility to try to provide it.
                                                            But in its other proposed changes the US makes it
The most recent draft outcome document (UN 2005)            clear that any such help coming from the
for the forthcoming United Nations summit goes              international community is not to be regarded as an
some distance in articulating this R2P doctrine. The        obligation. The legal obligation to help is to be
draft emphasizes (in para 118) that “the protection of      confined to the affected state. The US formulation
populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic               says the international community “should be
cleansing and crimes against humanity lies first and        prepared” to get involved if states fail to meet their
foremost with each individual State,” but goes on to        obligations, and that “the Security Council may out
say that “the international community, through the          of necessity decide to take action,” but the intent and
United Nations, has the obligation to … help protect        impact of the changes would be to reinforce the
populations” suffering extreme conditions. It also          understanding that there is no international
declares that there is a “shared responsibility to take     obligation to uphold the rights of the vulnerable to
collective action” through Chapter VII of the UN            protection. International action under the
Charter (the use of force) when other means fail.           formulation proposed by the US would continue to
And in recognition of the many unanswered                   be purely optional and up to the discretion of the
questions regarding implementation of the                   Security Council. The US amendment refers to a
responsibility to protect, the draft stresses the need      “moral responsibility” to help, but rejects the idea
for ongoing attention to the issue.                         that there is an obligation.

There is broad support for this draft formulation, but      Discussion will continue up to and during the
the summit’s consensus declaration will require             summit, and when the negotiations get down to the
universal acceptance, and the chances for that were         final stages the necessary trade-offs could yet lead to

                          Project Ploughshares 57 Erb Street West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 6C2
                  Tel: 519-888-6541 Fax: 519-888-0018 E-mail:
the survival of the responsibility to protect principle.               •    That, while the primary obligation lies with
Although Canada favours the draft formulation it                            each state to protect its people, when a state
would still be helpful to send messages of                                  is unable or unwilling to meet its obligation,
encouragement to the Foreign Minister,1 asking                              then that obligation accrues to the
Canada to persist in the effort to include a                                international community.
meaningful R2P statement in the summit
declaration.                                                       The assertion of this responsibility at the coming
                                                                   summit would be an important move toward the
It is important to emphasize that the primary focus                international community’s actually becoming a
of the R2P doctrine and the draft summit text is not               community.
the issue of military intervention but the rights of
vulnerable people to protection. The sovereignty of                Note
any state that is the scene of egregious violence
against civilians cannot be accepted as a barrier to                 Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew can be
external intervention for the purposes of bringing                 contacted at (t) 613-995-8872; (f) 613-995-9926;
protection and humanitarian relief to abused                       (email); or (mail) House of
populations.                                                       Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6. The World
                                                                   Federalist Movement’s website at
The moral responsibility of humans to help each           also provides
other is unambiguous and hardly new, but the                       opportunities to communicate views to UN
objective of entrenching a “responsibility to protect”             ambassadors involved in the negotiations.
goes beyond this widely accepted, if not widely
honoured, sense of a common humanity or a
commitment to mutual aid. The “responsibility to                   Reference
protect” doctrine is intended to lead the international
community beyond good intentions to a new and                      UN 2005, “Revised draft outcome document of the
three-fold recognition:                                            High-level Plenary Meeting of the General
    • That people in peril have a right to                         Assembly of September 2005 submitted by the
         protection from genocide, ethnic cleansing,               President of the General Assembly,” 5 August
         crimes against humanity, and other large-                 (A/59/HLPM/CRP.1/Rev.2). [Online]. Available
         scale atrocities;                                         from:
    • That such a right has meaning only if there        
         is a corresponding obligation to provide
         protection; and                                           Ernie Regehr, O.C., is Senior Policy Advisor with
                                                                   Project Ploughshares.

Project Ploughshares is an ecumenical agency of the Canadian Council of Churches that works with churches and related
organizations, as well as governments and non-governmental organizations, in Canada and abroad, to identify, develop, and
advance approaches that build peace and prevent war, and promote the peaceful resolution of political conflict.

“and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against
nation; neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4)


                           Project Ploughshares 57 Erb Street West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 6C2
                   Tel: 519-888-6541 Fax: 519-888-0018 E-mail:

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