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Safe Areas and the Responsibility to Protect

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image of Global Responsibility to Protect

The ‘responsibility to protect’ (RtoP) expresses the moral imperative to respond to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. So far, the debate on RtoP has focused almost exclusively on conflict resolution through institutional change. Various forms of diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and military intervention have been discussed as means to address the institutional roots of violent conflict. What has too often been neglected, however, is the need for more immediate forms of civilian protection. This need emerges from the complexity and uncertainty of conflict resolution: successful conflict resolution takes time, and it is unfortunately rare. Therefore, it is necessary to complement efforts at conflict resolution with more immediate forms of protecting civilians. Traditionally, the right to asylum and humanitarian aid have been the two primary means to provide such protection. In the case of most intra-state conflicts, however, these means are insufficient. When a state engages in genocide, pursues campaigns of ethnic cleansing, or commits war crimes against its own population, it likely has no intention to let people seek the safety of asylum in other countries, or to allow for humanitarian aid. In response to such situations, the community of states has a moral obligation to establish safe areas and provide them with the legal mandate and military resources necessary to offer reliable protection.

Affiliations: 1: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik / German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Germany,


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