The Responsibility to Protect and the Responsibility while Protecting: Friends or Foes?

Andreas Kolb
September 2012

Since its endorsement at the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations, the “responsibility to protect” (“R2P”) has become a key concept on the prevention of atrocity crimes. It rests on three pillars: the protection responsibilities of the individual states, international assistance as well as timely and decisive collective action. Parts of the concept have remained controversial, in particular the third pillar which comprises military force as the means of last resort. In late 2011, the notion of the “responsibility while protecting” (“RwP”) was introduced by Brazil. A Brazilian concept paper on the responsibility while protecting indicates a series of principles, parameters and procedures, most of which constrain recourse to the use of force and partly even to pillar three action more generally.

On September 5, 2012, the General Assembly is scheduled to hold its informal interactive dialogue on the report that has recently been submitted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the third pillar of the responsibility to protect. In the run-up to this debate, the Global Governance Institute takes a look at the impact which the initiative on the responsibility while protecting may have, or has already had, on the concept of the responsibility to protect and its implementation. It identifies overlaps and complementarities, but also tensions between the two notions. In a first informal exchange of views on the RwP initiative, member states reaffirmed their commitment to R2P in the form that had been agreed at the 2005 World Summit. They expressed support for some of the guidelines on the use of force which RwP proposes and which had also been part of the original R2P concept. By contrast, they predominantly rejected or modified those other elements of RwP which could invite a revision of the existing consensus on R2P and impede timely and decisive collective action. The upcoming General Assembly dialogue is now likely to be a crossroads for the future direction of this debate.

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