Armed conflict and mass atrocities continue to cause tens of thousands of deaths each year and adversely impact the lives of millions of innocent civilians. The international community has not yet been able to come up with an effective mechanism to prevent large-scale massacres and atrocities against ordinary citizens.
The horrors of the two World Wars, the genocidal violence carried out by authoritarian regimes in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Indonesia, and the ethnic violence unleashed in Rwanda and Yugoslavia eventually led the international community to articulate the notion of 'Responsibility to Protect' or R2P.
The R2P doctrine obligates individual states and the international community to protect populations from mass atrocities. It is based on the idea that sovereignty is not a privilege, but a responsibility instead. It was universally endorsed at the 2005 World Summit, and has now become a part of the international vocabulary in discussing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
R2P has three basic pillars. Pillar 1 entrusts states with the responsibility to protect their own citizens against atrocities. Pillar 2 requires the wider international community to encourage and assist individual states in meeting their responsibility to protect their citizens. If a state is failing to protect its populations, Pillar 3 requires the international community to take appropriate collective action, according to the UN Charter, to protect ordinary people from mass atrocities.
While the three pillars of R2P seem to provide a comprehensive framework for preventing atrocities, the implementation of these pillars remains problematic. The inherent tensions between its pillars can lead to international inaction. Consider, for instance, the case of Syria, where Russia and China claim that they are furthering pillar 2 of the R2P doctrine by enabling the Syrian regime to provide protection to its citizens. Despite the rest of the international community pointing out the Assad regime's atrocities against its own citizens, they remain reluctant to do much about it.
In 2011, the UN Resolution 173 evoked the language of R2P...