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By Styliani Rapti, member of the SAFIA Research Team.

Text Supervisor: Georgios Stavropoulos


The norm of R2P aims to “end the worst forms of violence and persecution” as it is mentioned in the official site of the United Nations. Incidents like genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity necessitate political commitments like R2P in order to prevent and protect the world from such atrocities. This article will examine the history of R2P and its objectives not only on a theoretical level but also in a practical one, specifically through the exploration of the Darfur case. How was the R2P implemented there? What should be changed or developed in the doctrine after taking into consideration its execution in Darfur?

Definition of the Term R2P

The international practice of “Responsibility to Protect” enables a mechanism that the international community can use in order to adequately respond and halt the commitment of cruel crimes (Responsibility to Protect, n.d.). The R2P doctrine emphasizes three main pillars as its components. The above are stated in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the UN 2005 World Summit Outcome Document as it follows: “The responsibility of each State to protect its populations (pillar I), the responsibility of the international community to assist States in protecting their populations (pillar II), and the responsibility of the international community to protect when a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations (pillar III)” (Šimonović, 2016), (Xypolia, 2022). The above pillars have also been referred to as the Responsibility to Prevent, the Responsibility to React and the Responsibility to Rebuild highlighting the responsibility of the international community, before, during and after crimes such as genocide, atrocities, war crime, ethnic cleansing crimes or crimes against humanity (Pingeot & Obenland, 2014), (Bellamy, 2008). In particular, the “Responsibility to Prevent” aspires to handle the crises and disputes which outbreak internally in the state and may deteriorate while putting the population at risk. Consequently, the Responsibility to React emphasizes on the responsibility that the United Nations Security Council has to take action and intervene when a state fails to protect its citizens. In this context, the use of  coercive measures such as economic and travel sanctions as well as political and legal actions are allowed with the military intervention being considered as the last resort if only the othering mechanisms diplomatic, humanitarian and peaceful measures fail. Lastly, the Responsibility to Rebuild indicates the obligation of the international community to help after the end of the conflict in order to achieve the restoration and stabilization of the socio-economic and political order (Mahdavi, 2015).

Historical Retrospection

The responsibility to protect (R2P) originated from the attempt to rearticulate the controversial notion of ‘human intervention’ in the 21st century after the idleness that the international community showed regarding the prevention and the effective reaction to the commission of atrocity crimes like genocide (Xypolia, 2022). Its was the third measure taken concerning the humanitarian intervention as it succeeded the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide that the UN General Assembly adopted in 1948 and put it into practice two years later, as well as the Resolution 2391 of the UN General Assembly in 1968 which affirmed, according to the international law, the war crimes and crimes against humanity as legally binding (Mahdavi, 2015). Following the end of the Cold War, the international community’s response to the Rwanda genocide in 1994 as well the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) intervention in Kosovo in 1999 were unsuccessful and opened the door to the genesis of the R2P doctrine. In 1999, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General encouraged the UN General Assembly to ‘prevent another Rwanda’ and to reach consensus on the issue of humanitarian intervention. 

The architects of the R2P concept were various and the orientation of each country’s political party in power played a key role in the promotion of the R2P norm. In particular, Canada was one of the most vocal proponents of the R2P doctrine’s development during its governance by liberal, center-left parties. Canada’s endorsement of the R2P concept was part of its overall aim to promote the importance of human rights and security through its foreign policy. After the publishing of the ICCS report, Canada made several efforts to promote its content through the speeches of its prime ministers – Jean Chretien and Paul Martin – at the UN General Assembly in 2003 and 2004 respectively as well as in many domestic speeches while promoting, in general, the conduction of academic research about the R2P.  However, after the election of the conservative government of  Stephen Harper, Canada’s support for the R2P concept gradually decreased (Obenland & Pingeot, 2014).

In 2000, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) got the support of the government of Canada and in the following year (2001) it developed its report entitled “The Responsibility to Protect”. The report was adopted by several UN Member-States such as Germany and the UK – including also Canada which was already mentioned –  while being endorsed following the 2005 World Summit by countries like  Australia, South Korea, Rwanda, Chile, France, Israel etc. (Obenland & Pingeot, 2014). In all respects,the ICISS report changed the subject of the discussion, focusing on the term of  ‘responsibility’ rather than that of ‘rights’” (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2021). In addition, it highlighted the primary duty of the States to ‘protect their own populations from atrocity crimes’ and placed at the same time the secondary duty of the international community to act and protect populations which are in danger when a State is incapable or reluctant  to defend its own inhabitants. The 2001 report preserved the principle of sovereignty and stated that R2P could get activated only if certain criteria were fulfilled such as the existence of a just cause for the intervention as well as of considerable corresponding prospects, the preservation of the intention to end human suffering, the use of proportionate and lesser means for the crisis resolution before the deployment of military forces,  the UN Security Council’s authorisation, etc. (Henderson, 2021).

Later, in 2004 and 2005, the R2P conceptualization was enclosed in two UN reports following the steps of the ICISS report.  In  particular, the 2005 UN World Summit  was a milestone for the R2P theory’s development and acceptance and its 138th and 139th paragraphs were asserted in the United Nation Security Council’s (UNSC) Resolution 2150 in April 2014 (Henderson, 2021). These reports were significant to the progress of the R2P concept and successfully replaced the term of ‘human intervention’ with one which made the international community face its failures and responsibilities and introduced the importance of protection of the populations at risk either from their State or the international community (Evans & Sahnoun, 2002). 

The Darfur Case 

Darfur is a Sudanic region which straddles the desert and savanna. Darfur was a Muslim sultanate until 1916, when it transmuted, from the British-Egyptian forces during the colonial period, into an adjunct to Sudan for a forty-years period. After gaining its independence, little progress was made in the way Darfurians lived, as poverty and injustice were still striking the society. In the 1980s, the civil war in the neighboring Chad affected Darfur and resulted in the outbreak during the 1990s of a civil war in Darfur, a war “between the north and the south” as the two opponent sides were the north Islamic-Arabic elite and the south, eastern-south non-Arab and non-Muslim groups (De Waal, 2006).

The war in Darfur, which consisted from overlapping conflicts and resulted to even genocide being committed, is a distinctive example which showed that the R2P doctrine was not able to operate effectively even though both the ICISS report of 2001 and the 2005 UN Word Summit were introduced while the war was still happening. 

From 2001 to 2003, the local conflicts deteriorated after the collapse of the Darfurian government which intensified the wish of the provincial elite for riots. The Darfur case gained international attention after the failure of its remorseless government to cope with the ongoing conflict. In 2004 (8th of April), the Ndjamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement was signed between the Sudanese government and the two rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) including Islamic people and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/SLA) which had mainly non Arab participants. It included two versions as there was not an agreed text due to the disagreement regarding the cantonment of the armed groups. However, it was the onset of all the rest diplomatic efforts considering the Darfur problem, creating hopes regarding the ceasefire of the ongoing conflicts. It permitted the African Union to dispatch monitors and a force, the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS), in order to provide protection to its dispatched monitors and to the civilians at risk. Even though the AMIS worked as efficient as it could, it lacked an adequate strategy and funding (De Waal, 2006).

Apropos of the UNSC’s reaction as well as the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council’s (PSC) one, they both used the Ndjamena agreement as a basis to their response. However, the measures taken were not methodical. The above factors exceeded the Ndjamena agreement and they made further requests without even being explicit about what they demanded.  Even though the US State Department confirmed on 9th on September 2004 that genocide had been committed in Darfur and announced its proposal to hand the AMIS to an UN peacekeeping force in order for the UN to act more effectively due to its previous experience, AU, UN and the Sudan government were hesitant for more than two years regarding the acceptance of this policy while the neighboring Khartoum also opposed to this decision. On top of this procrastination, the UNSC’s Resolution 1706, which proposed to the Sudan government to accept the decision otherwise it would be put into practice without necessarily its consent, enhanced the negative and ham-fisted impression of the UNSC’s measures (De Waal, 2006).

Last but not least, even the decision for a joint AU-UN force, the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which was consolidated in Resolution 1769 of 31th July 2007, was not enough to change the fact that the international community’s response was not direct, adequate, organized and capable to make a significant difference. 

Concerns and Recommendations

After examining the Darfur case and all the attempts that the international community made in order to put R2P into practice and halt the continuous war, it is important to point out some concerns regarding the way that the R2P operates.

To begin with, in the ICISS report they stated some necessary principles in order for R2P to ‘get activated’. To the disappointment of many, in the 2005 UN World Summit Document such criteria were not included making the question about “when is R2P needed and acceptable?” a vague one. However, it is true, that the addition of the criteria regarding the intention, the means, the prospects etc. of R2P would contribute to the mitigation of postcolonial critiques who consider R2P just a way to “justify military action or foreign interference in domestic affairs, justified as the protection of populations at risk” (Crossley) or as UN General Assembly President Father Miguel D’Escoto mentioned in his background note in 2009, as a justification of “arbitrary and selective interventions against the weakest states” (Mahdavi, 2015). Therefore, the three inseparable pillars of the theory – the objectives to protect, react and rebuild – would be clearly implemented while restraining the role that the powerful play in determining the priorities, who and when takes action (Paris, 2014).

In addition, some concerns refer to the United Nations Security Council (Axworthy & Rock, 2009). In particular, its veto system restricts the possibilities of the R2P banner to get activated and of the international community to react as the case might get dismissed if one of the veto power holders does not agree (Mahdavi, 2015). At the same time, the ICISS report acknowledged to the five permanent members of the Security Council the privilege to be the only ones to decide, in the context of the R2P concept, the conduction of military interventions, while omitting to introduce safety valves in order to prevent the unjustified use of military forces and keep the powerful permanent UNSC members accountable for their decisions (Obenland & Pingeot, 2014).

Last but not least, the specification of the R2P operation when it is activated is also recommended. In the Darfur instance, even though the ongoing war gained international attention, the international community had a lot of problems to face regarding the way that the missions were executed leading to a delay of action (De Waal, 2006). An agreement or at least a document regarding the finance of the R2P efforts, the concept of the operations, the logistics or even the size and the capabilities of the military troops – if they are needed – would make the R2P doctrine more specific and thus more effective. 


Taking everything into consideration, the ‘Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, despite  being controversial, led successfully to a re-examination of the terms of “human intervention” and “sovereignty”. Even though R2P may not have been always successful in transforming “promise into practice and words into deeds” (Mahdavi, 2015) it has certain prospects which will be achieved through the continuous development of its conceptualization, the specification of its objectives and the means it uses to operate.  


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Bellamy, A. (2008). Conflict Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. Retrieved from: here.

De Waal, A. (2006). Darfur and the Failure of the Responsibility to Protect. Retrieved from: here.

Evans, G. & Sahnoun, M. (2002). The Responsibility to Protect. Retrieved from: here.

Henderson, S. (2021). Humanitarian Intervention and R2P, Rwanda Revisited: Genocide, Civil War, and the Transformation of International Law. Brill.

Mahdavi, M. (2015). A Postcolonial Critique of Responsibility to Protect in the Middle East. Retrieved from: here.

Obenland, W. & Pingeot, L. (2014). R2P – in Whose Name? A Critical View on the Responsibility to Protect. Global Policy Forum.

Paris, R. (2014). Is it possible to meet the ‘Responsibility to Protect’? The Washington Post. Retrieved from: here.

Pingeot, L., & Obenland, W. (2014). R2P – in Whose Name? A Critical View on the Responsibility to Protect. Global Policy Forum. 

United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. Responsibility to Protect. Retrieved from: here.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (2021). The Responsibility to Protect: A Background Briefing. Retrieved from: here.

Šimonović, I. (2016). The Responsibility to Protect | United Nations. The United Nations. Retrieved from: here.

Xypolia, I. (2022). From the White Man’s Burden to the Responsible Savior: Justifying Humanitarian Intervention in Libya. Retrieved from: here.

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