Protecting the Responsiblity to Protect

The “responsibility to protect” be made real through “the capacity to deploy,” says Hugh Segal. Without that, the doctrine will lose salience.
By: /
May 2, 2014

When, within the last month, Russian President Putin spoke about the rationale for Russian intervention in Crimea, those of us who believe in the importance of the R2P doctrine were fortunate that he did not characterize his intervention to protect Russian-speaking Crimean residents as his own version of "the responsibility to protect." Indeed, Russian and Chinese opposition to the doctrine, oft recognized as a core violation of the over-riding UN principle of state sovereignty, would have been but one of the constraints he faced in typifying Russian military intervention in this way.

But the steadfast UN Security Council opposition to the doctrine in addition to the use of the P5 veto in situations like Syria, Sudan, and paralysis in the face of the Rwandan Genocide speak volumes about how hard it has been for the R2P doctrine to have either a clean launch or a measured, successful application. The challenge we face is the whether the license for genocidal engagements pursued by driven extremists and authoritarians will continue.

The challenge for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, while complex and compelling, is not without a solution. But with that said, a course of diplomatic innovation and hard negotiation will be vital if we are to move the puck down the ice in a meaningful way. And here, the UN should be prepared to reach out to other international organizations to shape an anti-genocide coalition that groups military, intelligence, judicial, police and diplomatic authorities worldwide in a joint effort to anticipate, prevent, engage, apprehend, and criminally sanction any and all genocidal plans and intentions—regardless of its source or sponsor.

In some circumstances, as was the case in Libya and should have been the case in Rwanda and Syria, military intervention on a preventative basis may unfortunately be required. In other circumstances, suspending IMF and World Bank support and bilateral credit lines for offending governments may also be required. In others still, apprehending and charging of those responsible and complicit “genocidaires” by legitimate domestic authorities as well as special force engagement to extract and bring to trial those who are perpetrating this mass crime against humanity may well be necessary.  An international criminal court without the agency to arrest war criminals and genocide perpetrators will diminish in value and salience.  To do this properly, an anti-genocide intelligence centre that uses the latest human, electronic, and digital surveillance techniques may well be appropriate. Any lesser effort would imply that genocide is but one crime among many others and not in need of special attention. And, for a Secretary-General, this would be an abdication of the office’s most important humanitarian responsibility.

At a recent conference on genocide in Belgium, Ban Ki Moon said all the right things by pointing appropriately to his two advisors on the issue, one of whom is Jennifer Welsh, a distinguished Canadian foreign policy scholar. But having an advisory framework without a plan for rapid response, prevention, engagement, and enforcement capacity is still too passive. Some member nations of the UN, to their credit, have put into place early warning, strategic, and military capacity on the genocide issue—including the United States.

Sadly, Canada has not—and it clearly should.

So, too, should the UN be engaged with NATO, La Francophionie, the Commonwealth, ASEAN, Arab League, EU, and Islamic Conference among others to discuss joint enforcement and engagement protocols for genocide prevention.

Only in the event of these developments would the lessons of Rwanda have been fully applied. Only then would our “responsibility to protect” be made real through “the capacity to deploy.”

These are the next steps protecting the “responsibility to protect” actually requires.

Meek “cap in hand” diplomacy will not work here. Commemorative declarations about the horror of genocide are all well and good. But the proof of any such treaty or protocol is in its implementation. As long as we spend and do more about drug smuggling and financial regulation than we do about robust, muscular, and fearless genocide prevention, the “responsibility to protect” doctrine will be in profound need of protection, itself.

Throughout the months of April and May 2014, the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and OpenCanada.org will be publishing reflections on the lessons learned since the Rwandan Genocide from prominent Canadians who have shown leadership in promoting global humanitarianism as part of the series Canadian Voices on R2P.

Also in the series


Peacekeeping Does Not Have to Wait

Roméo Dallaire on how the international community can guarantee swift international action where civilians are under imminent threat.

New Tools to Prevent Mass Atrocities

Technology can be used to gather, analyze, and communicate information for the sake of predicting, preventing, and mitigating atrocities in an unprecedented way, argues Christopher Tuckwood.

How Much "Law" Is There in "International Law"?

Bob Rae on our collective failure to properly enforce the rule of law.

The Role of the Churches in the Rwandan Genocide

Churches are uniquely positioned to address conflict before it gets out of hand, says Lois M Wilson. Yet they failed to act 20 years ago in Rwanda.

Renewing R2P

There is still much work to be done on how to define and apply R2P, but there is hope for the concept, says Lloyd Axworthy.

Today's Digital Witnesses Can Prevent Tomorrow's War Crimes

A growing cadre of scholars, practitioners, and hobbyists are leveraging new tools to help prevent gross violations of human rights and holding perpetrators to account after heinous crimes are committed, says Robert Muggah.

Returning to the Responsiblity to Protect

If we want to make R2P's hope of "never again" a reality, we need to turn away from the critique of sovereignty and the example of Libya, argues John Duncan.

Protecting R2P From Misuse

Acting on R2P inappropriately or invoking it as a pretext for other objectives like regime change can be as damaging as inaction to R2P’s long-run effectiveness, argues Maria L. Banda.

Time For Canada to Recommit to R2P

In the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide, Canada has gone from being the most vocal supporter of the norm to one of its meekest.

Learning Something, Not Everything

Two decades ago, the global media virtually ignored the killing in Rwanda. Has it learned from its mistake since, asks Michael Valpy.

The Eight Lessons of Rwanda

Irwin Cotler on what we have learned in the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide.