When it was adopted by the United Nations (UN) system in 2005, the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was meant to provide an implementation mechanism for the international community to respond to governments that were perpetrating the mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. As R2P is now in its second decade of existence, it is important to evaluate past implementation of R2P by the UN Security Council — the UN body charged with taking collective action when all other preventive efforts have failed and atrocity crimes are being committed or are imminent.
This briefing paper is a summary of a more detailed law review article recently published in the University of Chicago Journal of International Law.
An examination of eleven case-studies shows that there are three conditions that emerge as being determinative for whether the Security Council successfully or unsuccessfully implements R2P. First, there is either no obstruction by the government committing mass atrocity crimes, or, if government obstruction does take place, an interested P5 country provides the political will to overcome this obstruction. Second, cooperation exists between regional organizations—like the African Union (AU)—or neighboring regional powers and the Security Council to coordinate a response. And third, the Security Council has at its disposal a rapid response capacity to react to the perpetration of atrocity crimes in an efficient and effective manner to protect civilians.
When any of the identified conditions is absent, implementation is generally unsuccessful. Given these conditions, specific recommendations are made for strengthening international institutions so that implementation of R2P by the Security Council in the coming decades will better save civilian populations from mass atrocity crimes.