Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities
Reviewer: Kristyna Syslova
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The so-called Responsibility to Protect [R2P] has, recently, emerged as a widely discussed and hotly debated issue. Even though the idea is not entirely new or at all revolutionary, there is yet to be a general acceptance of its boundaries and implications and thus it continues to be meticulously examined and its logic questioned. Some of the more common questions related to R2P include: where does the R2P originates from, what does it means and what does it involve?; Does a responsibility to protect truly exist?; Does R2P clash with the concept of state sovereignty, if so why and what is to be done to reconcile these principles?; and, who is responsible for protecting who? Such questions are found in both academic and public queries and have inspired a whole generation of authors to solve such problematics, examine the nuances and provide reasonable assumptions as to the nature of R2P and its wider implications. One such author is Alex J. Bellamy, who compelling book: Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities certainly makes an adequate contribution to the emerging literature base. This review is meant to highlight some of the more meaningful arguments presented by Bellamy.
In the first chapter, Bellamy's focus rests on a presentation of the origins of R2P as a concept. In this quasi-historic approach, Bellamy commences by reviewing the ‘grass-roots' of R2P: from the sovereignty as/and responsibility debate. He demonstrated that the ‘traditional sovereignty' (self-determination) and ‘sovereignty as responsibility' (protection of fundamental human rights) have a lot in common, particularly that every sovereign has responsibilities to its citizens and the international community (pp. 15-27). Although, as Bellamy states, there is disagreement over the nature of responsibility and on the roles of international society, what is undoubtedly common to both is the acceptance of the UN Security Council's authority as a policing arm to sovereign affairs (pp. 30-33). Arguing in favour of the similarities between both ‘sovereignty' concepts provides a base for establishing a common consensus towards the R2P.
After working with the conceptual side of the R2P debate, Bellamy analyses the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) - establishment by the Canadian government - and its role in developing a novel approach to the R2P. This second chapter thus opens with the argument that the international community should be prevented from idly watching as a state's political authority fails to protect its citizens from genocide, ethnic cleansing or other large-scale atrocities. In viewing the Commission, Bellamy selects its most important function, to: "set out the case for the R2P and identified its three main components: to prevent, to react and to rebuild." While these are dealt with in more details in subsequent chapters, it is noteworthy that these feature so prevalently in his work as they form the practical side of the R2P concept and Bellamy seems eager to endorse a physical body - such as the ICISS - capable of fulfilling a R2P mandate.
Among the most important arguments raised in this chapter concerns the notion that no states are, or should be exempt from fulfilling the goals the R2P promises. In other words, all states and governments share responsibility (pp. 51-59). According to the ICISS report, the main purpose of R2P is to reduce the deliberative choice between standing aside or taking action, which world leaders faced, and continue to face today. The Commission adopted an effective approach, making prevention - of genocide and other mass atrocities - the key to the R2P. Bellamy goes on to provide an examination of the R2P's development problematic, for instance its association with ‘humanitarian intervention', stating that this relationship actually complicates international support. Nevertheless, the R2P gradually transformed from a concept into a principle or norm, when "all states pledge to adhere (to R2P) ... both in their relations with their own citizens and in their behaviour as members of international society" (p. 5).
As the author notes in chapter three, the R2P, promoted and supported by Kofi Annan, while undergoing some important changes, was in 2005 at the UN World Summit finally transformed from a proposed concept into an international principle which ought to be endorsed by the entire UN membership (p. 95). World leaders agreed, for the first time, that states have a primary responsibility to protect their own people from crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing, sexual violence as well as other war crimes and the international community has a responsibility to act when governments fail to protect a citizenry because they are unable or unwilling to do so.
It is common to assume that governments actually bear responsibility for providing safety and security for their citizens however; state sovereignty often serves as the legal blanket needed to commit violent acts against a citizenry. Throughout his work, Bellamy highlights the fact that - sad as it is - genocide, violations of human rights and other atrocities remain "an all too frequently recurring phenomenon" (p. 1), and tries to explain why such atrocities have not ceased despite a climate in international relations conducive to accepting the norm of R2P.
Invariably, Bellamy relies on case-work to properly underscore the moral arguments this work is founded on. In this, the perilous situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is earmarked by Bellamy as a humanitarian black-hole which demands the international community's assistance as more than 5.4 million people have died there as others, particularly the US and EU, merely watch one set of atrocities after another befall the hapless civilian population.
Officially, the conflict in DRC is over, yet the continuation of suffering is relentless: major human rights abuses and other atrocities have not ended, starvation and malnutrition are the norm, preventable diseases are rampant and sexual violence is wide-spread. Additionally, the number of refugees and displaced people is enormous adding extra pressure points to an already strained region. While it is clear that segments of the international community are concerned about the situation in DRC, and in the wider Great Lakes Region, and consequently, a number of observation and peacekeeping missions have been sent by the EU, and the UN has been present there since 1960, the situation remains poor and, in fact worsens rather than improves as time goes on. Bellamy expresses surprise at the ineptitude of the international community when it comes to demonstrating the R2P as a functioning norm by noting that the international response to atrocities in DRC are "slow, timid and disjointed" (p. 1).
Instead of making concerted efforts to stem violence and help those most vulnerable and in need of external support, often those able offer protection and sustainable living act as spectators rather than intervene. Self-interests typically win out over morality. Indeed, it is common that states are weary to get involved into another's domestic political scene and often even the fact about the nature of an ensuing conflict - including its potential contagion - is, not enough to mobilise the international community to act. Bellamy argues that currently it is the combination of all the above which ensures that interventions are slow, incoherent, under-equipped and lacking coherence in their mandate (p. 2).
Bellamy provides a clear, in-depth and analytical overview of the theoretical and practical dimensions of the R2P concept and norm in international relations and is geared towards seeking a solution to seemingly intractable conflicts to prevent the continuation of human history being defined by genocide and other horrible atrocities. In short, Bellamy's research is more than providing a historic or thematic account of the R2P, it is an attempt to demonstrate an alternative avenue for human history to venture and his aim - successfully achieved - was to demonstrate that perpetual cycles of violence can in fact be brought to an end, though such progress requires the active participation of the whole of the international community and not through continued procrastination. Finally, Bellamy presents approaches to transforming the R2P into an applicable programme of action which would secure the protection of civilians and therefore launch a new chapter in history. For those interested in human rights protection, international affairs or recent ongoing and development in international relations, this book comes highly recommended.