Did the UN fail to implement the concept of R2P? Syria and the Responsibility to Protect

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

11 Pages, Grade: 2.0



1.0 Introduction

2.0 The concept of Responsibility to Protect

3.0 The History of the Responsibility to Protect

4.0 Deriving criteria for this paper

5.0 The Emergence of the Syrian Conflict

6.0 The Measures used by the International Community so far:
6.1 Responsibility to Prevent
6.2 The Responsibility to React

7.0 Conclusion

1.0 Introduction

Since the start of the civil war in Syria back in 2011 more than 370 000 have been killed as the result of this war1. Numerous atrocities have been committed by both sides of this conflict. The government of the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad has been accused by several human rights organizations for dropping barrel bombs on the rebel held areas and using chemical weapons against innocent civilians, killing thousands of them2. But also the anti Assad forces, especially the Islamic State has been blamed for many horrendous human rights violations.

The Syrian civilians are caught in the line of fire, between the government forces of Bashar al Assad and several many of them radical Islamic groups fighting the Syrian government. The world community has so far failed not only to find a peaceful solution but also to protect the civil population of Syria from mass atrocities. The failure of the world community to is attributed to the fact that China and Russia have vetoed several resolutions which were aimed at imposing sanctions on the government of the Syrian president Assad for committing crimes against his own population3.

These all have raise a question whether the international community should intervene in Syria in order to stop the human rights violations. According to the concept of R2P the Syrian government failed to use its authority to protect its population. Therefore according to this concept the international community should get involved in this conflict, since the Assad regime has failed to protect its people from being slaughtered.

So in this paper I am going to find an answer to the question if the United Nations Security Council has failed to implement the concept of R2P regarding Syria

In order to answer this query I will first take a look at the concept of the Responsibility to Protect its history and the main points of this concept. Furthermore I will look at the war in Syria, describe the main reasons and origin of this conflict. Then I will try to find a response to the question whether the United Nations Security Council has failed its obligation to use the concept of Responsibility to Protect and get involved in this civil war. I will raise some controversial question whether like whether the failure of the United Nations Security Council to act on Syria means an end to the concept of R2P.

2.0 The concept of Responsibility to Protect

The Responsibility to protect is a proposed norm that the sovereignty of the state is not an absolute right and that a state which has failed either to protect its citizens from mass atrocities or has been involved in genocide or other crimes against his own population has lost this aspect4.

The Responsibility to Protect is just a norm not a law since it’s only provides a framework for tools like mediation, early warning mechanism, economic sanctions and chapter 7 powers all these tools are aimed at preventing mass atrocities. Furthermore other actors like civil society organizations, regional organizations and international institutions play an important role in this process.

The concept of R2P is based on three pillars.

1) The responsibility to prevent
2) The responsibility to react
3) The responsibility to rebuild5

According to the first pillar the sovereign state has an obligation to protect its citizens from mass atrocities. In order to fulfill this obligations a government of a sovereign state has to address the political needs of its population by creating powersharing institutions, furthermore it has to tackle economic needs of its own population by creating better terms of trade for example and last but not least the government has to introduce the rule of law and create an independent judiciary and law enforcement system.

Should the government have been either unwilling or unable to protect its citizens, the international community has to get involved or take measures in order to stop mass atrocities These measures do not mean that the world community should necessary use military force. Before using military force, the international community has to use all non military means at its disposal (like arms embargos, financial sanctions (like freezing of assets). Only after all these measures have failed to stop the mass atrocities, the world community can consider taking military measures as the last resort. But before the use of force, six criteria's have to be fulfilled.

First only the UN (either the UN Security Council or General Assembly) can grant an authority for the international community to intervene in the country in which the government has failed to protect its citizens from genocide or either mass atrocities6. Furthermore the criterion of just cause has to fulfill in order to justify a military intervention in a sovereign country. The intervention must be aimed to halt or to avert large scale loss of life, apprehend genocide or stop other mass atrocities against innocent civilian population of a country. But only large scale mass atrocities can be used as justification for a military intervention, it is an illegal to intervene in a sovereign country where there are human rights violations which do not lead to a large scale loss of life7. The proposed intervention must have an intention only to halt the suffering of the civilian population. A military intervention to ease the human suffering must not be used as the pretext for regime change or the occupation of a territory. As I have already written, the use of force should only be used s a last resort after all non military means have failed to ease the suffering of the civilian population. The force which is used in a military intervention has to be determined by original provocation , this means that only the necessary right amount of force should be taken which will succeed in halting massive human rights violations. And last but not least a military intervention is only justified in the case in which this intervention will do more harm than good8.

And the last pillar of R2P is the Responsibility to Rebuild. This means that after a successful military intervention, the international obligation has to rebuild the country in which the military intervention has taken place. The measures which have to be taken include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of security forces so that they can protect the population.

The second dimension of the responsibility to rebuild involves creating or reinstating a properly functioning legal system which will help to bring those responsible for human rights violation to justice and so bring about the reconciliation between the warring parties. All the measures taken after the military intervention should be aimed not only at rebuilding the country after conflict but also these measures have to find and solve the roots of the conflict.

3.0 The History of the Responsibility to Protect

In the decade after the breakdown of the USSR and it s allies in Eastern Europe, the world was faced with a series of violent military conflicts. The majority of these conflicts were not interstate war (an interstate war is a violent conflict between two or more independent countries) but intrastate wars in this kind of violent conflict either between a sovereign state and a non state actor or between two non state actors). All these conflicts were marked mass scale killings of civilians.

The UN was established after the Second World War with the aim to prevent further wars between states and to guarantee that the human rights are not violated during these conflicts9. In order to achieve this, members of UN passed a number of multinational treaties and passed down laws like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions with its additional protocols in order to make sure that the human rights are not violated.

However all these treaties only obliged state to respect human rights of their own citizens but they did not have any obligations to protect people outside of their borders. These laws were established in order to guarantee that every state of the world and its citizens are protected from an outside threat, since the members of the UN believed that the respect for the state sovereignty will protect one country from being attacked by another. However the possibility that a government of country might be the main perpetrator of human rights violation was largely ignored by these laws.


1 Syrian observatory for human rights: More than 370 000 people are believed to have been killed since the rise of the Syrian Revolution ( 23.02.2016), retrieved on 28.02.2016

2 William James: Britain calls Syrian barrel bomb attacks a war crime , Reuters (31.01.2014) retrieved on 28.02.2016

3 Sabrina Hoeling: Can R2P practice what it promises? A Case Study on the Syrian Civil War: Anchor Academic Publishing (2015) S 15

4 Gareth Evans: The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Once and for All: The Brooking Instition Press (2008) S 40

5 Thomas G. Weiss: Humanitarian Intervention: Polity Press (2012) S. 97

6 Sven Smith : Foreign Policy : Oxford University Press ( 2008) S 232

7 Sabrina Hoeling: Can R2P practice what it promises? A Case Study on the Syrian Civil War: Anchor Academic Publishing (2015) S 22

8 Bellamy, Alex: . Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities, Cambridge: Polity Press (2009) S 37

9 Linda Fasulo:. An Insider's Guide to the UN. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press (2004) S 12

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Did the UN fail to implement the concept of R2P? Syria and the Responsibility to Protect
University of Hamburg  (Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
Law of War in International Conflict
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
400 KB
syria, syrien, un, responsibility, protect, r2p, united nations
Quote paper
Alex Ovsienko (Author), 2016, Did the UN fail to implement the concept of R2P? Syria and the Responsibility to Protect, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/318425


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