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Responsibility to Protect: Coming of Age?

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image of Global Responsibility to Protect

The World Summit in 2005 unanimously adopted the principle that countries have a responsibility to protect their citizens from mass atrocity crimes and that, if they are unable or unwilling to do so, the responsibility shifts to the international community. Difficult issues of implementation and a sense of 'buyer's remorse' among some countries, however, stalled its practical application on the ground. In 2008, the concept was considered by policymakers and practitioners in the context of at least four crises: post-electoral violence in Kenya; the response to the humanitarian disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar; the conflict between Russia and Georgia; and the political and economic implosion in Zimbabwe. The principle proved useful in facilitating the role of prominent African mediators in bringing at least a temporary respite in Kenya and applying regional pressure that opened the door to outside assistance in Myanmar. On Russia-Georgia, the international community's broad rejection of Russia's misuse of the concept to justify its intervention helped define the parameters for the principle's use. In Zimbabwe, however, the lack of regional support and the intransigence and indifference of President Robert Mugabe and his regime demonstrated severe limitations on the practical application of the principle. Looking ahead, advocates of responsibility to protect must advance and consolidate the World Summit consensus, resisting backsliding; enshrine its principles in relevant international, regional and national institutions; and build capacity within international institutions, regional organisations, and governments: civilian and military, preventive and reactive.


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