UN Reform - The Responsibility to Protect: Strangers in Peril

All too frequently the cry of ‘something must be done’ is heard in reaction to an outrage or atrocity. But would it be easier to ‘do something’ and prevent the Rwandas or Kosovos, if clear principles were established? And is such a development likely in the UN reform process?

The World Today
5 minute READ

Nicholas J. Wheeler

The idea that states that commit genocide, mass killing and large scale ethnic cleansing should not be shielded from international intervention gained ground as western states intervened, with varying degrees of success, in Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda and Kosovo. All states have a fundamental responsibility to protect their citizens, but where a government proves unable or unwilling to discharge this responsibility, the principle of sovereignty is overridden by ‘the international responsibility to protect’.

Four years ago the Canadian sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) proposed that the responsibility to protect be formally adopted - along with specific guidelines on the use of force - by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. Although the report was welcomed by many, none of its key recommendations were implemented.

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