Global Policy Forum

R2P Is Misused

This article considers the legal parameters of “humanitarian intervention” and “responsibility to protect” (R2P) in light of UN resolutions on international interventions in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire.  UN resolutions relating to Libya and Cote d’Ivoire were issued under Chapter 7 and the guise of customary international laws relating to humanitarian intervention and the international community’s responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians.  In reality, however, the focus in both Libya and Cote d’Ivoire is on strategic warfare rather than on protecting the basic needs of people living in insecure areas.  The author of the article suggests that ensuring people have access to shelter or bringing civilians to safe security zones, which may be cities or temporary refugee camps, should be the priorities of any force acting under the precept of humanitarian intervention or R2P.

By Mient Jan Faber

Open Democracy
May 5, 2011

R2P, introduced without the slightest idea of how it has to be implemented, is nothing more than an alibi for half-hearted (Libya) or fully fledged (Ivory Coast) military operations and interventions. With regard to non-combatants (civilians), the UN should and could have done a better, more honest job.

The enthusiasm, both in the academic and the political community, for the explicit mention of R2P in UN Security Council Resolutions 1973 (Libya) and 1975 (Ivory Coast), is both remarkable and understandable. For quite some time, many scholars and practitioners have underlined the paradigm shift from state security to human security. Of late, this is no longer a theoretical debate, but R2P has become praxis in concrete operations sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

The most concrete example of an R2P operation is the establishment of a safe haven (area) in a war zone. Srebrenica, between 1993 and 1995, is an exemplary case here. Its main characteristics, on paper, were:

1. The warring parties do recognize the safe haven as such and promise to respect it.

2. The save haven is demilitarized.

3. The safe haven is protected by a neutral UN-force, mandated to deter (with ‘brutal’ force) any attempt by outsiders to undermine the safe haven.

In Srebrenica the safe haven concept failed with horrendous consequences, because the third condition was not fulfilled. It is obvious that these criteria were/are also not fulfilled in either Ivory Coast or Libya. On the contrary, from the very beginning, already in the wording of the resolutions but on the ground even more so, the whole R2P concept has been blurred.

In Ivory Coast both sides (troops of the former president Gbagbo and those of the new president Oatarra) committed serious atrocities against citizens; protecting civilians was not at all part of their military strategy, despite the active involvement of France troops in the battle. In Libya, Benghazi was considered by the UNSC to be the first city whose citizens – as distinct from rebels/fighters – should be protected by foreign (mainly NATO) airplanes. But bombing has nothing to do with protection; on the contrary. In fact, both UN Resolutions 1973 and 1975 have neglected to prescribe how civilians should be protected. Instead, they exploit the R2P terminology as an alibi for choosing sides. The label R2P was nothing more than a cover-up.

By now, what is clear is that it may be fairly stated that both UN Resolutions were biased. In the case of Ivory Coast (Res. 1975) full (French) support was authorized in favour of one side (president Outarra) in the conflict. And in the case of Libya (Res. 1973) the international community, with certain qualifications, put their shoulder behind the so-called rebels (freedom-fighters). Only air support, no boots on the ground were permitted. It is true, now and then the international community has to take side in a conflict. But I don’t want to be deceived. In both cases, neither the wording let alone the execution of the resolutions had anything to do with the protection of civilians. Reality is our witness!

It is a real pity, but R2P has now become an alibi for going to war instead of a promise to protect citizens caught between warring parties. I wouldn’t have had any problem if the UNSC had adopted a resolution for ‘war’ against the Gaddafi regime, authorizing military support (also on the ground) to the ‘rebels’ fight for freedom. Unfortunately, wars are part of our reality and support for the ‘good’ side is sometimes necessary if not obligatory, including military support.

But there is more to do than to fight the enemy. On behalf of the international community, we also need R2P soldiers on the ground protecting those places where people are gathered in an attempt to find shelter. Or bringing civilians to special security zones, which may be cities or temporary refugee camps, where they are safe. For that we need a new international convention, adopted by the UNSC. And based on that a specially trained and equipped R2P-force.

After the Rwanda massacre in 1994, voices were raised in favour of the establishment of a UN-intervention force. That idea was not embraced by most countries, in particular not by permanent members of the UNSC. Almost two decades later, the right to intervene was definitely replaced by the responsibility to protect and now measures should be taken to enable powers to act upon this responsibility. Indeed, an R2P-force will be more broadly acceptable, because of its strict and limited mandate, and its neutrality during the ongoing battle. Nevertheless, its mandate should be robust: protection of civilians has to be taken deadly seriously. One more failure of the ‘Srebrenica’ variety must be avoided at all costs.


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