Responsibility to Protect

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


French translation: La responsabilité de protéger

“The Responsibility to Protect – known as R2P – refers to the obligation of states toward their populations and toward all populations at risk of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. R2P stipulates three pillars of responsibility:

Pillar One: Every state has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Pillar Two: The wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility.

Pillar Three: If a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter.”

–Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “About RtoP” [Accessed 27 March 2013].  http://www.globalr2p.org/about_r2p.

“The Responsibility to Protect doctrine is the enabling principle that first obligates individual states and then the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. R2P, as it’s commonly known, is a set of principles based on the idea that sovereignty is not a privilege, but a responsibility. R2P was universally endorsed at the 2005 World Summit and then re-affirmed in 2006 by the U.N.”

The United National Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC), Responsibility to Protect, http://www.unric.org/en/responsibility-to-protect?layout=default. [Accessed by 29 March 2013]


Examples and/or Illustrations

The R2P doctrine was first formally elaborated by the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty:




(1) Basic Principles

A. State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself.

B. Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.


(2) Foundations

The foundations of the responsibility to protect, as a guiding principle for the international community of states, lie in:

A. obligations inherent in the concept of sovereignty;

B. the responsibility of the Security Council, under Article 24 of the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security;

C. specific legal obligations under human rights and human protection declarations, covenants and treaties, international humanitarian law and national law;

D. the developing practice of states, regional organizations and the Security Council itself.


(3) Elements

The responsibility to protect embraces three specific responsibilities:

A. The responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk.

B. The responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention.

C. The responsibility to rebuild: to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert.


(4) Priorities

A. Prevention is the single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect: prevention options should always be exhausted before intervention is contemplated, and more commitment and resources must be devoted to it.

B. The exercise of the responsibility to both prevent and react should always involve less intrusive and coercive measures being considered before more coercive and intrusive ones are applied.


Principles for Military Intervention

(1) The Just Cause Threshold

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. large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or

B. large scale ‘ethnic cleansing’, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.


(2) The Precautionary Principles

A. Right intention: The primary purpose of the intervention, whatever other motives intervening states may have, must be to halt or avert human suffering. Right intention is better assured with multilateral operations, clearly supported by regional opinion and the victims concerned.

B. Last resort: Military intervention can only be justified when every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis has been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures would not have succeeded.

C. Proportional means: The scale, duration and intensity of the planned military intervention should be the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective.

D. Reasonable prospects: There must be a reasonable chance of success in halting or averting the suffering which has justified the intervention, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction.


(3) Right Authority

A. There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes. The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Security Council work better than it has.

B. Security Council authorization should in all cases be sought prior to any military intervention action being carried out. Those calling for an intervention should formally request such authorization, or have the Council raise the matter on its own initiative, or have the Secretary-General raise it under Article 99 of the UN Charter.

C. The Security Council should deal promptly with any request for authority to intervene where there are allegations of large scale loss of human life or ethnic cleansing. It should in this context seek adequate verification of facts or conditions on the ground that might support a military intervention.

D. The Permanent Five members of the Security Council should agree not to apply their veto power, in matters where their vital state interests are not involved, to obstruct the passage of resolutions authorizing military intervention for human protection purposes for which there is otherwise majority support.

E. If the Security Council rejects a proposal or fails to deal with it in a reasonable time, alternative options are:

I. consideration of the matter by the General Assembly in Emergency Special Session under the “Uniting for Peace” procedure; and

II. action within area of jurisdiction by regional or sub-regional organizations under Chapter VIII of the Charter, subject to their seeking subsequent authorization from the Security Council.

F. The Security Council should take into account in all its deliberations that, if it fails to discharge its responsibility to protect in conscience-shocking situations crying out for action, concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency of that situation – and that the stature and credibility of the United Nations may suffer thereby.”

— Source: International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. 2001. “The Responsibility to Protect.” Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. [Accessed 27 March 2013]. http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/ICISS%20Report.pdf.

The R2P doctrine was endorsed by states at the 2005 World Summit:

“138. 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.

139. 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 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 manifestly fail 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.”

        — World Summit Outcome. 15 September 2005. United Nations General Assembly, 60th session: A/60/L.1. para. 138-139. [Accessed 27 March 2013]. http://www.who.int/hiv/universalaccess2010/worldsummit.pdf.


Other Useful Sources

Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. http://www.r2pasiapacific.org/.

Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (CCR2P), http://ccr2p.org/.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. http://www.globalr2p.org/.

International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/.

International Committee for the Red Cross. http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/index.jsp.

Office of the Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect. http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml.

R2P Today, (Canadian International Council) CIC, Canada, OpenCanada.org, http://opencanada.org/features/the-think-tank/interviews/r2p-today/.

UN Security Council Resolutions. http://www.un.org/docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html.



Australian Red Cross. “International Humanitarian Law and the Responsibility to Protect: a Handbook.” http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/publications.

Badescu, Cristina Gabriela. 2010. Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Bellamy, Alex J. 2009. Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Bellamy, Alex J. 2011. “Libya and the Responsibility to Protect: the exception and the norm.” Ethics and International Affairs 25(3): 263-269.

Davies, Sarah and Luke Glanville (eds). 2010. Protecting the Displaced: Deepening the Responsibility to Protect. Amsterdam: Brill.  

Deng, Francis M., Sadikiel Kimaro, Terrence Lyons, Donald Rothchild, and I. William Zartman. 1996. Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Douzinas, C. 2007. “The Many Faces of Humanitarianism.” Parrhesia 2: 1-28.

Evans, Gareth J. 2008. The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Finnemore, Martha. 1996. “Constructing Norms of Humanitarian Intervention.” In  The Culture of National Security, ed. by Peter Katzenstein. New York: Columbia University Press.

Glanville, Luke. 2011. “The antecedents of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’.” European Journal of International Relations 17 (2): 233-55.

Human Rights Centre, Religion, Politics and Globalization Program, International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of California, Berkeley, October 2007, HRCBERKELEY.ORG, The Responsibility to Protect (R2P): Moving Forward. http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/files/R2P-Final-Report%201.pdf. [Accessed March 29, 2013]

International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. 2001. “The Responsibility to Protect.” Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/ICISS%20Report.pdf.

Mamdani, Mahmood. 2010. “Responsibility to protect or right to punish?” Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 4 (1): 53-67.

Massingham, Eve. 2009. “Military Intervention for Humanitarian Purposes: does the Responsibility to Protect doctrine advance the legality of the use of force for humanitarian ends?” International Review of the Red Cross 91(876): 803-831.

MacFarlane, S. Neil, Carolin J. Thielking and Thomas G. Weiss. 2004. “The Responsibility to Protect: is anyone interested in humanitarian intervention?” Third World Quarterly 25: 977-992.

Orford, Anne. 2009. “Jurisdiction without Territory: From the Holy Roman Empire to the Responsibility to Protect.” Michigan Journal of International Law 30(3): 984-1015.

Thakur, Ramesh. 2002. “Outlook: Intervention, Sovereignty, and the Responsibility to Protect: Experiences from ICISS.” Security Dialogue 33(3): 323-340.

United Nations A/66/874–S/2012/578, General Assembly Security Council, 25 July 2012, Report of the Secretary General, “Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response,”   http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/UNSG%20Report_timely%20and%20decisive%20response(1).pdf. [Accessed March 29, 2013]

Weissman, Fabrice. 2010. “Not in our name! Why MSF does not support the Responsibility to Protect.” Centre de réflexion sur l’action et les savoirs humanitaires. www.msf-me.org/en/general/downloadFile/file/2052/dId/2380.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. 2000. Saving Strangers : Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

World Summit Outcome. 15 September 2005. United Nations General Assembly, 60th session: A/60/L.1. http://www.who.int/hiv/universalaccess2010/worldsummit.pdf.