Responding to Crises: the Problematic Relationship between Security and Justice in The Responsibility to Protect

The Responsibility to Protect (RtP) report has been hailed by academics and policy makers alike as an important policy development in the international community's potential to protect vulnerable and insecure populations from violence. This article critically assesses the RtP, examining the problems with its particular conception of justice and security based on the nature and source of threats to individuals. It criticises the RtP's focus on crises, arguing that this downplays the importance of systemic, ‘chronic’ problems of injustice and disorder across the globe – and thus the importance of responding to these chronic problems. This emphasis, together with the RtP's focus on civil and political rights over socioeconomic rights, results in the causes of crises being perceived as local, thereby obviating the need to admit the role of the international community in contributing to current crises and systemic injustices. Based on these criticisms, this article concludes that the RtP's narrow conception of the relationship between justice and security will not further the international community's ability to discharge its responsibility towards individuals across the globe.

Policy Implications

  • The RtP’s idea of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ places the blame for crises involving mass-atrocity crimes solely on the government of the state in which the crisis occurs.
  • Protecting populations from harm – the key aim of the RtP – requires a broader understanding of the relationship between mass-atrocity crimes and poverty and inequality, including an understanding of the international community’s role in creating the conditions in which these crimes occur.
  • To be effective, a policy aiming to protect populations from harm requires a reorientation of priorities away from military interventions into crisis situations, and towards redressing structural, systemic causes of crises before they occur. In addition to development issues such as health and education, these might include restrictions upon arms sales and corporate activities in unstable regions, and a focus on nonmilitary, more consensual, diplomatic peace efforts.
  • Addressing structural global inequality does not require a policy document such as the RtP. It adds little to the existing humanitarian intervention debate and detracts global attention and effort from addressing poverty and inequality.
  • The RtP should not be implemented any further, either by civil-society groups seeking to gather support for the doctrine or by the UN Security Council in its resolutions.
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