The Responsibility to Protect
Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility that holds States accountable for the welfare of their people.
Prevention requires apportioning responsibility to and promoting collaboration between concerned States and the international community. The duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people. This principle is enshrined in article 1 of the Genocide Convention and embodied in the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility” and in the concept of the Responsibility to Protect.
The three pillars of the responsibility to protect, as stipulated in the Outcome Document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit (A/RES/60/1, para. 138-140) and formulated in the Secretary-General's 2009 Report (A/63/677) on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect are:
- The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
- The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
- The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The work of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, should be viewed in conjunction with the closely related work of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect who focuses on developing the conceptual, political and operational aspects of the Responsibility to Protect. In order to eliminate redundancy and maximize effective use of resources, the Secretary-General directed the two former Special Advisers in 2007 to form a joint office and merge their functions and activities. This decision was referred to in the Secretary-General’s letter to the President of the Security Council of 31 August 2007 (S/2007/721), as well in his statements and reports to the General Assembly on the Responsibility to Protect in 2009 and 2010 (A/63/677, A/64/864). These followed extensive consultations with Member States and United Nations entities, including multiple meetings of the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee dedicated to the Responsibility to Protect. This merger has resulted in changes to the conceptual framework, methodology and operational activities of the Office.
General Assembly debates the responsibility to protect
On 21July 2009, the Secretary-General presented his report on “Implementing the responsibility to protect” (A/63/677) to the General Assembly. Following an informal thematic discussion on 23 July, Member States engaged in a formal plenary debate on 23, 24 and 28 July in the General Assembly on how best to implement the Responsibility to Protect and the Secretary-General’s strategy. On 2 October 2009, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/63/308) to continue consideration of the Responsibility to Protect. Mr. Luck delivered remarks during the July 2009 dialogue on implementing the Responsibility to Protect .
The Secretary-General addresses the interactive debate on “The Role of Regional and Sub-regional Arrangements in Implementing the Responsibility to Protect". (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)
On 9 August 2010, the Secretary-General addressed an informal interactive General Assembly dialogue on “Early warning, assessment and the responsibility to protect” as part of the General Assembly’s continued consideration of the emerging concept. The Secretary-General’s report (A/64/864 ) on the issue highlights existing early warning and assessment mechanisms within the UN system, identifies gaps and proposes ways to improve the UN’s ability to use available early warning information effectively, including information from field operations, and to improve early, flexible and balanced responses where there is a risk of the genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or ethnic cleansing.. Mr. Luck delivered remarks during the August 2010 dialogue..
On 12 July 2011, the General Assembly held an informal interactive dialogue on “The role of regional and sub-regional arrangements in implementing the responsibility to protect”. The Secretary-General’s report (A/65/877-S2011/393) emphasizes how effective global-regional collaboration is essential for realizing the promise embodied in the Responsibility to Protect. The report identifies gaps and proposes ways for the UN to strengthen its cooperation and draw on information and analysis from regional and sub-regional arrangements to identify signs of danger and undertake or support timely and effective preventive action at the sub-regional, regional, or global level. You can see the UN press release, the webcast of the debate part I and part I and Mr. Luck’s remarks at the July 2011 dialogue .
Special Adviser Adama Dieng, 5 September 2012, UN Photo: Evan Schneider
On 5 September 2012, the Secretary-General presented his report on “The responsibility to protect: timely and decisive response” (A/66/874-S/2012/578) at the fourth annual informal, interactive, dialogue on the responsibility to protect in the General Assembly. The report examines the range of tools available under the third (response) pillar of the responsibility to protect, partners available for implementation and the close connection between prevention and response. A total of 58 Member States and one regional organisation spoke during the debate. You can see the UN press release, the webcast of part I and part II of the debate, and the opening remarks of Special Adviser Adama Dieng.
Special Adviser Jennifer Welsh, 11 September 2013,
UN Photo: Paulo Filgueiras
On 11 September 2013, the General Assembly held its annual informal interactive dialogue based on the fifth report of the Secretary General, “Responsibility to Protect: State responsibility and prevention” (A/67/929-S/2013/399). The Report explores the causes and dynamics of atrocity crimes and sets out measures that States can take to prevent these crimes and build societies that are resilient to them. The report also highlights some examples of initiatives that States are already taking, in this regard. A total of 68 Member States spoke during the debate. You can see the remarks of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Jennifer Welsh, and the webcast of the debate (Part I and Part II).
In September 2014, the General Assembly is holding a debate on the sixth Secretary-General report: “Fulfilling our collective responsibility: International assistance and the responsibility to protect” (A/68/947-S/2014/449). The report identifies the various actors, approaches and principles to guide efforts to assist States through encouragement, capacity building and protection assistance.
Panelists at the 2012 Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect:
Permanent Representative of Côte d’Ivoire to UN;
Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights;
Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General; Adama Dieng, Special
Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide;
and Zhang Saijin, Chief of the General Assembly
Affairs Branch in the Department for General
Assembly and Conference Management.
(UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)
Interview with Jennifer Welsh, UN Special Adviser on the responsibility to Protect (20th commemoration of the Rwanda genocide)
Published on April 16, 2014
Video produced by Nathan Beriro for the Outreach Programme on the Rwanda Genocide and the United Nations