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General Announcements - September 01, 2009

General Assembly Passes Resolution on Responsibility to Protect

The General Assembly has adopted by consensus its first resolution on the responsibility to protect, agreeing to hold further discussions on the international understanding to intervene to stop atrocities from taking place.

The September 14th resolution noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s July report calling for speedy action “to turn the promise of the responsibility to protect into practice.”

Agreed on at a summit of world leaders in 2005 and sometimes known as ‘RtoP,’ it holds states responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.

“It is most significant that this resolution was adopted by consensus,” Mr. Ban said in a statement. “I welcome it as an important step as we chart a common path towards meeting the commitment made at the 2005 World Summit.”

He said he looked forward to further deepening the dialogue on how best to implement the responsibility to protect. “It was heartening to hear so many member states, from every part of the world, reaffirm in a constructive and forward-looking debate the commitment made in 2005,” he added. “I found the statements by member states that had suffered such traumas to be particularly meaningful.”

Mr. Ban asked his Special Adviser Dr. Edward C. Luck and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng to continue their wide-ranging consultations with member states, relevant departments and agencies, regional and sub-regional organizations, and civil society on the many implementation questions still outstanding.

“In all our efforts, we should be guided and united by the ultimate purpose of the responsibility to protect: to save lives by preventing the most egregious mass violations of human rights,” he added.

Dr. Luck, who is also senior vice president and director of studies at IPI, had earlier urged the General Assembly to “implement fully and faithfully” the decisions of its 2005 World Summit, which agreed on the principle of the responsibility to protect.

Addressing a thematic dialogue on RtoP in the General Assembly hall on July 23rd, Dr. Luck noted that all the heads of state and government at the 2005 World Summit, without reservation, committed to the doctrine, and that subsequent unanimous adoptions of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions had reaffirmed the principle. “The mandate could not be clearer or come from a higher authority,” he said.

Read Dr. Luck's remarks to the General Assembly on RtoP (pdf)

Dr. Luck referred to a set of proposals for implementing the principle in the Secretary-General’s latest report on the issue that rest on three pillars––state responsibility, international assistance and capacity-building, and timely and decisive response.

Addressing the Assembly two days earlier, Mr. Ban, a vocal supporter of the principle, described his report, which was drafted by Dr. Luck, as one that sought to “situate the responsibility to protect squarely under the UN’s roof and within our Charter, where it belongs.” He challenged Assembly members to take up “our common task now to deliver on this historic pledge to the peoples of the world.”

The then-president of the General Assembly Miguel D’Escoto, in an opening statement delivered on July 23rd, warned that the RtoP principle could pose a threat to national sovereignty and stir fears of neocolonialism in the developing world. He contended that the legacy of colonialism gave “developing countries strong reasons to fear that laudable motives can end up being misused, once more, to justify arbitrary and selective interventions against the weakest states.”

Mr. D’Escoto used the case of Iraq as an example of the lack of accountability for “those who might abuse the right that RtoP would give nation-states to resort to the use of force against other states.”

IPI has been working with member states, UN officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and independent experts to identify ways to move forward on the implementation of RtoP, putting emphasis on strengthening the international community’s capacities for early warning, assessment, and other flexible responses to individual situations. To that end, Mr. Ban’s statement noted, “Military action is a measure of last, not first, resort and should only be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.”

He added: “By developing fully UN strategies, standards, and processes for implementing the responsibility to protect, we can discourage states or groups of states from misusing these principles for inappropriate purposes.”

Dr. Luck recalled that the Assembly had taken up the subject of humanitarian intervention in 1999 and found it wanting. “This is not 1999,” he said. “Unilateral armed intervention under the guise of humanitarian principles was––and is––seen as morally, politically, and constitutionally unacceptable.”

“That is not the UN way,” he asserted. “But neither is standing by in the face of unfolding mass atrocities a morally or politically acceptable option for this organization.”

Dr. Luck called for robust debate on the principles but added, “What we do not need at this point, however, are efforts to turn back the clock, to divide the membership, or to divert attention from our central task. The world is changing. Our thinking has to evolve with it.”

Dr. Luck said he hoped the Assembly debate would dispel a set of myths that had “clung to RtoP like so many unwanted barnacles from an earlier time and place.”

He listed four of them:

-- “The old caricature that RtoP is another word for military intervention, when it seeks the opposite: to discourage unilateralism, military adventurism, and an overdependence on military responses to humanitarian need.”

-- “The tired canard that RtoP offers new legal norms or would alter the Charter basis for Security Council decisions, when it is a political, not legal, concept based on well-established international law and the provisions of the UN Charter.”

-- “The twisted notion that sovereignty and responsibility are somehow incompatible when, as the Secretary-General has often underscored, they are mutually reinforcing principles and his plan aims to strengthen, not weaken, state capacity.”

-- “The recurring distortion that RtoP favors big states over smaller ones, when in fact large countries were the last to come aboard in 2005, they have their own sovereignty concerns, and efforts to bolster the rule of law and international institutions serve the interests of all.”




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