Basic Principles and Core Elements

R2P Basic Principles

The principles and elements of The Responsibility to Protect doctrine were elaborated in the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). Its basic principles are two-fold:

Inherent in the concept of sovereignty is a state’s responsibility to protect its populations; and
If a population is suffering serious harm, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the responsibility to protect those people lies in the international community.

Core Elements

Three core elements define what is the R2P doctrine. First, states and the international community have the responsibility to prevent atrocity crimes, which requires action to address both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk. Second, states and the international community have the responsibility to react during situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, including the use of force. Finally, states and the international community have the responsibility to rebuild in the aftermath of atrocities. This may mean providing assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation as well as seeking to address the causes of the conflict.

Criteria for Military Intervention

The ICISS report articulates a well-measured and careful approach to the acceptance of military intervention for human protection purposes. Foremost, less intrusive and coercive measures must be exercised before more coercive and intrusive ones are applied. However, in cases of extreme circumstances – those that “shock the conscience of mankind, or which present danger to international security” – use of force can be considered.

Six criteria were identified for defining when a situation is appropriate for military intervention: right authority, just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospects.

(1) Right Authority – The most appropriate body to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes is the United Nations Security Council. However, should the Council rejects a proposal or fails to take up a situation within a reasonable amount of time, alternatives are the following:

A. the General Assembly can consider the matter during an Emergency Special Session under the “Uniting for Peace” procedure; and

B. Regional or sub-regional organizations can act within their geographic jurisdiction, subject to their seeking subsequent authorization from the Security Council.

If those mechanisms fail to discharge their responsibility to protect in conscience-shocking situations, concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency of that situation.

(2) Just Cause Threshold – In order for military intervention to be warranted, serious and irreparable harm must be occurring to human beings, or imminently likely to occur. Two broad circumstances provide justification.

A. large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or

B. large scale ‘ethnic cleansing’, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.

(3) Right Intention – The primary purpose of the intervention, whatever other motives intervening states may have, must be to halt or avert human suffering. Right intention is better assured with multilateral operations, clearly supported by regional opinion and the victims concerned.

(4) Last Resort – Military intervention can only be justified when every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis has been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures would not have succeeded.

(5) Proportional Means – The scale, duration and intensity of the planned military intervention should be the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective.

(6) Reasonable Prospects – There must be a reasonable chance of success in halting or averting the suffering which has justified the intervention, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction.

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