Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: new directions for international peace and security?

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Eduarda P. Hamann and Robert Muggah (eds.)

The Responsibility to protect (R2P) was admitted as an international norm in 2005 by 191 heads of government and state. R2P emphasizes that states have the responsibility to protect their populations from four major human rights violations: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Despite R2P’s wide acceptance, the possibility of use of force raised by it has been a largely controversial aspect, having been questioned since 2005 by a number of emerging countries – including Brazil – due to fear of the concept being misused to fulfill hidden agendas and because it implies a violation to the principle of sovereignty.

At the end of 2011, Brazil launched the idea of “Responsibility while Protecting” (RwP), triggering reflection throughout the international community on the principles, rules and parameters applicable to the use of force, on behalf of all UN Member-states, by military operations aimed at protecting populations from the four R2P crimes.

Many of the elements of the Brazilian proposal stem from International Humanitarian Law and the Just war theory, which partially reduces the strength of the initiative. On the other hand, the fact that RwP is based on existing principles increases the possibility of forging consensus around it within the heated and polarized debate on implementation of R2P.

Some countries support RwP’s contribution for R2P, others reject it and a third group has not yet positioned itself. The Brazilian proposal – and its reception in a number of capitals – shows that, in a world where most countries are only norm-takers, today Brazil can contribute, to some extent, to the complex process of norm-making. In order to effectively consolidate this new role, it is fundamental that the country does not abandon the process it has so wisely started.