Posted by: lauraannwilson | February 14, 2015

R2P: The Responsibility to Protect – Demystifying the R2P Doctrine

Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) – what the? Never heard of it? No shame! Honestly, before this week I had never heard of the Responsibility to Protect (also know as R2P). However, attending meetings of the JUSCANZ Group (for more information on JUSCANZ please see my Week 3 Wrap Up blog) and other meetings, I heard this phrase being repeated again and again. So I thought that I would do a little research, to get my head around it. No shame in not understanding something, but you have to try to figure it out, hey?! So in this blog, I am going to share with you, dear reader, what I have learnt about R2P.

Background on the Responsibility to Protect

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a human rights doctrine (a principle). R2P provides a guiding principle that States have a responsibility to protect its population, prevent genocide and mass atrocity. This doctrine is based on the understanding that States have a positive obligation to protect as well as respond to crises.

R2P emerged as a new mechanism for responding to mass atrocity and human rights abuses. R2P provides a holistic response to human rights, focusing on the development of measures to prevent violations and measures to respond to crises.

R2P requires States to commit to peace building, promote good government and the rule of law.

Where did R2P emerge from?

History nerds and human rights lawyers read this: R2P has its origins in Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolome des las Casas, whose ideas led to the the 1542 New Laws of Indies, which abolished slavery in Europe. Hugo Grotius and John Locke further developed the principle of sovereignty as a State responsibility. The sovereignty principle further developed into a humanitarian intervention doctrine, which is based on the principle that States are justified to intervene militarily where the State in question is unable to or has failed to prevent mass atrocity against its population. However, commentators criticised the humanitarian doctrine for failing to provide a clear check list for when a situation in a State reaches a point that military intervention by other States is justified.

R2P developed in response to the perceived failings of the humanitarian doctrine. R2P is rooted in the idea that States have a positive obligation to protect its population from mass atrocity and human rights violations, and also a duty to respond in situations of crisis, and where other States have failed in their obligations

R2P emerged in the 1990s during the crisis in Kosovo, as a new approach to responding to mass crisis. The doctrine was endorsed at the UN World Summit 2005. The Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit provides the 3 Pillars of R2P:

1. States have a key overarching responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and incitement of these crimes

2. The global community is obligated to encourage States to fulfil pillar 1 obligations

3. The international community has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other measures to protect populations from these crimes.

Note that R2P applies not only to crimes of genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, but also to broader human rights. R2P is endorsed strongly by Australia. R2P is a crucial tool for international human rights defenders, UN bodies, academics, commentators, international relations and foreign policy experts and diplomats.

I hope that this post has provided a demystified comment on R2P, and generated interest in this topic. It is a complex area, but very interesting. Remember – no shame if you don’t get it first time reading, keep on reading about it! I look forward to your comments on this topic, dear reader!

If you are interested in finding out more, please see a list of further reading materials:

Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility (2005, Cambridge University Press)

Inaugural Lecture of Professor Hector as Chair of International Criminal Law and International Criminal Law and International Criminal Procedure at the University of Utrecht, ‘The role of the InternationalcriminalCourt I preventing atrocity crimes through timely intervention’, 18 October 2010

Tom Hadden, A Responsibility to Assist (2009, Hart Publishing, Oxford and Portland)

Outcome Document from the 2005 World Summit


  1. Very interesting.

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