Use of Responsibility to Protect Doctrine in the United Nations

United Nations R2P

The Creation of Responsibility to Protect doctrine in the United Nations

The United Nations responsibility to protect citizens rights worldwide has previously been limited to non-military engagements that happen in the form of sanctions. However, in some instances, military involvement is needed which is why Responsibility to Protect, also known as R2P, was introduced to the council. The UN University describes how this came about historically as the posing of the following question after the 1999 Kosovo War, “How to save people from mass atrocities when a State manifestly fails to protect them and the Security Council is paralyzed.”

In essence, R2P was incorporated to empower the United Nations to use military force provided there is enough evidence presented that shows a member state is either unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide according to a Huffington Post article. R2P has been utilized by the United Nations in Iraq, Libya, and Syria to protect civilian lives from brutal regimes. The R2P doctrine, in particular, is concerning towards nations like Iran and Syria who for a number of years have been using violent means to suppress protests. In fact, Iran commented during a September 2017 gathering of the UN its general dislike for R2P.

“It is still premature to include this item in the formal agenda of the General Assembly. Before the prevention of the conflicts should be at the heart of the R2P concept. The war of aggression is illegal and military intervention without the authorization of the Security Council must be prohibited..”


R2P used in Syria

Syrian Protests

A recent article from Veteran’s Today released leaked information that the hunt for Syrian President Assad could begin soon. Whether this was simply a ploy to get Assad to show himself or a plan in action, it does show the inner workings of R2P in Syria and the aggression of the UN, whether this is a force for good depends the integrity of  who is controlling the situation. Assad has been a close ally of Iran since the Iran-Iraq War. With Iran and Hezbollah supporting Assad in Syria, there is a chance the conflict spills into the Islamic Republic.

The UN has measured and tailored its responses to current conflicts that could involve R2P after what it has learned from past conflicts. Let’s take a step back and look at the events of 2008 in Kenya. Violence following an election where accusations were made that the Kikuyu, the tribe of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, was unwilling to relinquish control after four decades of dominating the power structures of the country. Kikuyu farms and houses were torched by protestors and a peace agreement made by opposing sides quickly fell apart. In a 2008 statement by the President of the UN Security Council, “The Security Council expresses its deep concern that, despite the commitments made on 1 February {referencing the peace agreement}, civilians continue to be killed… The Security Council …calls for the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons.” The Washington Post further discussed specific details of the crisis that needed to be addressed before finding a peaceful solution would be possible.

“…dealing with the underlying causes of the post-election crisis. Issues to be addressed include constitutional reform, social inequalities and what some officials have described as the nightmarish issue of land reform, a particularly sensitive subject because many in Kenya’s political elite are implicated in illegal land grabs.” — Washington Post

The UN University also says, “If R2P is a matter for States only, POC can be an obligation for non-State actors. R2P, although narrow in scope, has a deep resource: everything in the domestic, bilateral, regional and UN system; everything from a power-sharing agreement (2008 Kenya) to the use of military force (2011 Libya) can form its arsenal.”

This is a transformation within the UN to put a stop to violators using military force poses an interesting question: will the United Nations involve itself in the current Iranian protests? During the 2009 Green Movement protests, the Obama administration was criticized for its silence and inaction. 

According to the New Yorker and Amnesty International, “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad’s victory and condemned the protests; riot police and Basij, armed with knives and guns, were sent into the streets to attack the protesters…, many detainees had been beaten, tortured, and raped by guards and interrogators, often at secret detention centers.”

Many Iranians do not want regime change forced on them from the outside, but nor do they wish to be abandoned in their long struggle to achieve freedom and safety. As recently July 31st, hundreds of strikers and protesters gathered in Esfahan confronting government financial corruption and the regime’s actions in Lebanon and Syria. While it has not acted, the UN is currently in a position to protect the international rights of Iranians and implement POC and R2P measures, and it is in a position to respond to the Iranian government’s threats to its own people.



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