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The Dangerous Liaisons of the Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians in Peacekeeping Operations

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The parallel conceptual development and shared normative basis of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and civilian protection in peacekeeping operations have led to a rapprochement between the two emerging norms. In 2009, in his efforts to operationalize RtoP, the UN Secretary-General explicitly called for the mainstreaming of the goals relating to RtoP in the areas of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.This article argues that the interdependence between RtoP and protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations should not be interpreted as being necessarily conducive to their parallel promotion or mutual strengthening. On the contrary, issue-linkage between them is likely to be counterproductive for three sets of reasons. First, RtoP is characterized by its exceptional nature and narrow agenda - in relation to the four threshold crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing - while the civilian protection in peacekeeping agenda is broad-ranging. Second, there are differences in the degrees of coercion that the two concepts can produce that make them sufficiently distinct not to be amalgamated in the conflict management toolbox. Third, the contentious nature of the two concepts, and in particular the coercive dimension of pillar three of RtoP, is such that a two obvious issue-linkage would be counterproductive as it would exacerbate the norm localisation challenge of two already resisted emerging norms.

Affiliations: 1: Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Email:, URL:


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