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Responsibility to Protect: The Human rights Doctrine

A webinar titled, “Responsibility to Protect: The Human rights Doctrine” was organized by Dr Humaira Shafi, Assistant Professor at the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), on 16th February 2022.

The concept of Responsibility to Protect emerged in response to the inability of the international community to respond to mass atrocities committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Consequently, International Committee on Intervention and State Sovereignty developed the concept of R2P in 2001, which was unanimously adopted in 2005 at the UN World Summit. The initiative came as a godsend for those communities who had nowhere to turn to while they were persecuted by their own governments based on race, ethnicity and religion. The idea has had mixed results since inception where in cases the concept has delivered as intended while in others it was used as a smokescreen for political agendas or conveniently ignored.

The basic ruling of the ICC includes fifty criminal acts by the state that would deem the international responsibility to protect necessary. These include acts like torture, abusing and starving war prisoners, annihilation and genocide, slavery of any kind, rape, looting and molesting civilians whether in an internal state conflict or civil war.

The R2P functions on three main principles. First, that every nation is responsible for the protection of its citizens from mass atrocities that violate human rights; second, the international community is responsible to encourage and help any state to uphold the first principle; third,  the international community, in case of any violation by a nation, must take effective measures unanimously and timely according to the UN agreement.

The session started with the introductory speech by Prof. Tughral Yamin, Dean CIPS. He explained the key terms relevant to R2P along with the misconceptions the world at large has about R2P such as the Responsibility to Protect is a western concept. Dr Yamin highlighted that the conceptual and operational development of the responsibility to protect has multiple origins as well as contributions by member states from the global south and the responsibility to protect constituting both a domestic and foreign policy issue.

Prof. Alex Bellamy initiated the conversation by presenting the attendees with the main observation that the Responsibility to Protect is always applicable, sharing the extensive number of Security Council resolutions in the support of his argument. He also focused in on the challenges of implementation – exploring the positive changes, what the problems– and the sources of those problems are, sharing the current and future trajectories, and the practical nature of the prospects in the discussion. He further informed the participants about the primary duties of the state and the international community when R2P is in action pressing upon the forms of implementation such as regional cooperation, national plans, the role of media and criminal investigation.

Research Fellow Rebecca Barber highlighted the legal obligations in relation to atrocity prevention and response. She noted that in the characterization of R2P as a moral and political principle, rather than a rule of international law, there has been a tendency amongst R2P scholars and advocates to under-appreciate the relevance of corresponding legal obligations in relation to atrocity crimes. She emphasized that this is particularly relevant in the current times. Since the birth of the R2P norm, there have been significant developments in the legal framework regarding state obligations to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. Dr Barber discussed three developments in particular; the judgment of the ICJ in the Bosnian Genocide case, elaborating the nature of state obligations to prevent genocide; the obligation to cooperate to end serious breaches of peremptory norms of international law; and developing academic and judicial commentary regarding ‘due diligence obligations. She brought the participants attention to the fact that these developments mean that states do now arguably have a legal obligation to use all means reasonably available to them to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes underlining that the international law doesn’t call it R2P, but the obligation is substantively very similar.

Dr Shannon Zimmerman pointed out some serious challenges that peacekeeping forces are facing related to atrocity crimes committed by states when protecting civilians. She pointed out that these crimes can be committed by state authorities (which the operations need consent form) or when they are conducted by asymmetric forces which peacekeepers are ill-equipped to deal with. These challenges have become more relevant in the past 5 years with the deployment of UN peace operations in Mali and the Central African Republic and have been a long-standing issue for the mission in Somalia. This is quite important for Pakistan as it is the 6th highest contributor to peace operations currently, including in Mali and CAR.

Brig (R) Azam Agha, a scholar on peacekeeping in his talk mentioned that at the heart of the problem, is the concentration of power of Accusing, Judging, and sentencing within the hands of few while reducing the world community to endless debate. Even though the acronym “R2P” came to replace the former more abrasive “Right to Intervention”, it started with a noble and just cause in an increasingly violent world.

In the end, some meaningful suggestions and comments were added by Brig (R) Mirza Saleem Baig, Dr Farah Naz and Dr Najimdeen Bakare as well as students of the department. Closing remarks were followed by Dr Tughral Yamin, congratulating Dr Humaira Shafi for organizing and moderating the highly informative session and thanking the speakers for their contributions.