The UN and R2P

The history of R2P dates back to 2001, when it was introduced by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS).
UN photo/Martine Perret
UN photo/Martine Perret

The History

Over the century, there has been a change in the nature of armed conflict; we no longer live in a world where conflict is primarily between states but rather within states, and civilians now make up the vast majority of casualties.

The urgency for civilian protection has never been more pertinent than the present. These changes have questioned the relevance of and inspired debates over the definition and importance of state sovereignty and the role of the UN.

The problem was that, in the face of mass atrocities, much of the international community rested on the notion that state sovereignty — the right of each state to have independent authority on its territory and not be subordinated to any other government — prevented the international community from intervening. Additionally, the commonality in all these cases was the failure of the individual governments to provide protection for their own civilians.

Following the Rwandan genocide and the recognition that the international community had again failed the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked:


"When does the international community intervene for the sake of protecting populations?"


Answering a call for a strengthened international framework for civilian protection, in 2001 the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) introduced R2P as a principle in their report “The Responsibility to Protect.” 

After considering the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s Report “In Larger Freedom” at the 2005 World Summit, most governments pledged their commitment to R2P. This was, however, with a narrower scope than that presented in the original ICISS report, with R2P focusing solely on populations at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The commitment is outlined in paragraph 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document

R2P was officially referred to by the Security Council for the first time in 2006 in Resolution 1674 on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict and Resolution 1706 on Darfur. In 2009, Secretary-General Mr. Ban-Ki Moon released a report clarifying the understanding of R2P and outlining measures for moving the norm from theory to practiceAt the General Assembly Debate in 2009, 92 governments spoke to demonstrate their continued commitment to R2P. Governments confirm their consideration of the SG’s report on implementing R2P and recognized the importance of civil society in doing so. Since the reaffirmation of R2P in 2009, the Secretary-General has released a report each year on recommendations for implementing R2P. This has been followed by the General Assembly meeting on two occasions for Informal Interactive Dialogue on how to implement R2P. In 2010 member states discussed recommendations for improving the UN's early warning system and in 2011 member states, regional, sub-regional and key civil society organizations joined to discuss the role of regional and sub-regional organizations in mass atrocity prevention. 

In 2011 the responsibility to protect has been referred to in UN resolution 1973 on Libya and UN resolution 1975 on Core d'Ivoire

UN Special Advisors and Genocide Prevention Office

The UN system now consists of the Genocide Prevention Office and two special advisors to the Secretary-General working within the realm of R2P:

  • UN Genocide Prevention Office and Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide (SAPG):. The current SAPG, Dr. Francis Deng, was appointed in 2007. Set out in Security Council Resolution 1366 in 2001 the Special Advisor’s mandate is to acts as a means to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action. For more information visit their website.
  • Special Advisor with a focus on the Responsibility to Protect– In 2007 Dr. Edward Luck was appointed as Special Advisor with a focus on R2P with the primary role to develop conceptual clarity and consensus for the emerging norm.

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