Photo Source: © Alexis Huguet/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Source: © Alexis Huguet/AFP via Getty Images

The Responsibility to Protect and Armed Groups

9 May 2023

Armed groups are increasingly playing a critical role in the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes, which in turn calls on academics and policymakers to reassess conventional approaches. Building on calls for a greater understanding of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and armed groups, this report sets out to a) take stock of the R2P discourse, b) identify the recommendations made within it and, c) expose the problematic assumptions and blind spots that need to be reassessed going forward. To do this, section one (Introduction) explains the importance of the topic and explains key terms. Section two (A History of R2P and Armed Groups) reviews i) the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report, ii) the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD), iii) the annual reports by the UN Secretary-General (2009-2022), iv) the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes and v) key meetings that were held in 2015 to discuss this topic.

This research highlights that there is no comprehensive R2P strategy toward armed groups despite high-profile calls to establish one. Instead, there is a fragmented discourse that on one hand, does provide insight into both the national and international responsibilities surrounding armed groups but on the other hand, makes it challenging to critically examine previous recommendations. Helping to address this, section three (Summary of Existing Recommendations) synthesizes past recommendations to aid academics, policymakers and practitioners in the field. Building upon this, section four (Reassessing Mainstream Thinking) asks the reader to consider that certain assertions and assumptions evident in the discourse are problematic while other key aspects have not been covered sufficiently. Section five (Conclusion and New Avenues for Research) calls for three specific things. First, expertise on armed groups needs to be brought into R2P thinking more explicitly and robustly. Second, the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes should incorporate armed groups as a risk factor. Third, an annual report by the UN Secretary-General dedicated to R2P and armed groups may act to catalyze a more focused discussion, as well as recommendations on this pressing issue.

This report is written as part of an Economic Social and Research Council (ESRC) funded project “Explaining Non-State Armed Groups Perpetrating Mass Atrocities.” The key research findings will be presented at the end of project workshops during 2023 in London (May), New York and Kigali (June). Please contact the authors for further details.

2023 May ConferencePaper R2P and Armed Groups Final

Adrian Gallagher and Helena Hinkkainen


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Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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