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Update: Responsibility to Protect

April 5, 2011

“Responsibility to Protect”
in Action for the First Time  

The current ongoing intervention in the Libyan crisis represents the first formal application of the concept of an international “Responsibility to Protect,” as codified by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council in 2005 and 2006 respectively. An attempt to use it against Burma’s military junta in 2007 was vetoed by China and Russia.
            In a September, 2010 post, I wrote about my own first encounter with the concept of R2P (as its advocates refer to it) via a very interesting symposium at Boston College. With that in mind, I thought I would check whether the participants in that forum have weighed in on the current situation.
            In an article on the English site of Al Jazeera, Mahmood Mamdani, who is critical of the concept and its application, expresses one of his central concerns. Mamdani grew up in Uganda; he is a professor of government at Columbia University:

“Iraq and Afghanistan teach us that humanitarian intervention does not end with the removal of the danger it purports to target. It only begins with it. Having removed the target, the intervention grows and turns into the real problem…
           “In addition to authorising a ‘no-fly zone’ and tightening sanctions against ‘the Gaddafi regime and its supporters’, Resolution 1973 called for ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi.’ At the same time, it expressly ‘excluded a foreign occupation force of any form’ or in ‘any part of Libyan territory.’ 

As we continue to see in the daily news, the ongoing intervention has gone considerably beyond those goals. Mamdani also notes that the five governments which abstained on the UN resolution “represent the vast majority of humanity,” and that the African nations which either approved the resolution or abstained have expressed concern over the scale of the intervention.

“The anti-Gaddafi coalition comprises four different political trends: radical Islamists, royalists, tribalists, and secular middle class activists produced by a Western-oriented educational system. Of these, only the radical Islamists, especially those linked organisationally to Al Qaeda, have battle experience. They – like NATO – have the most to gain in the short term from a process that is more military than political. This is why the most likely outcome of a military resolution in Libya will be an Afghanistan-type civil war.”

I was unable to locate current articles by the other symposium participants, Alan Wolfe and David Hollenbach, SJ. Boston College’s Hollenbach is a strong proponent of R2P, and his perspectives may be represented by those outlined on the website of the Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, which does include an earlier article by Hollenbach on the subject.
            Please let me know if you’re aware of other current and relevant articles by any of these folks or others.

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