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The "Responsibility to Protect", Norm Localisation, and African International Society

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image of Global Responsibility to Protect

For its advocates, the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) principle is clearly intended to be a universal concept, applicable equally to all parts of the globe. Yet recent literature examining the processes of norm diffusion in international relations has suggested that so-called universal norms do not automatically become embedded in different regions of the world and hence commitment to them varies depending on the local context. This article explores this issue with reference to how members of African international society have thought about the R2P idea. To do so it proceeds in two parts. The first summarises what I mean by African international society and the process of norm localization. In the second, I explore the current status of the R2P idea within the African society of states with reference to six illustrative episodes. These concern: 1) the building of Africa's new peace and security architecture; 2) the debate surrounding the adoption of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document; 3) UN Security Council debates about the protection of civilians in armed conflict; 4) the African Union's response to the conflict in Darfur, Sudan; 5) the UN Secretary-General's appointment of a special adviser on R2P; and 6) African international society's response to the crisis in Zimbabwe. I conclude by reflecting upon what these episodes reveal about the current status of the R2P within African international society and the extent to which different camps are emerging that articulate different local positions on, and express varying degrees of skepticism about, the protection principle.


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