To what extent has RtoP been effective as a ‘rallying call’ to action in the face of mass atrocities? Is RtoP just ‘hot air’ as some of its critics have suggested?
In order to examine whether RtoP adds value as a rallying call, I created a list of cases of ‘mass atrocities’ for the period 2006-mid2011 based on the Uppsala Conflict Data Project’s (UCDP) database on ‘one-sided violence’ and incorporating data from its ‘armed conflicts’ dataset that included conflicts with high rates of intentional civilian killing. This was augmented with data on the ‘Arab Spring’ to establish a list of twenty-six cases. This included nineteen cases where RtoP was referred to and seven where it was not. There were around ten cases in which RtoP was invoked but which did not actually involve the commission of mass atrocities. Sometimes this was done by states, as in the case of the Russian government in relation to Georgia and the French government in relation to Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis, but more often this was done by civil society actors as in the invocation of RtoP in relation to crises in Gaza, Zimbabwe, North Korea, South Africa and the Philippines.
Was the Security Council was more likely to act when RtoP was invoked ? There appears to be a very clear connection between the use of RtoP and the likelihood that the Council will pass a resolution. In a little over half (53%) of the cases of mass killing where RtoP was invoked by any actor, the Security Council adopted resolutions in relation to that crisis. This compares to only 14% of cases where RtoP was not invoked. At face value, this suggests that the Council is much more likely to adopt measures when a situation is framed in RtoP terms than in relation to similar events that are not so framed.
It might be contended that it is the gravity of the crisis and not RtoP that is doing the work in creating this clear difference. In other words, the worse the situation, the more likely it is both that actors will use RtoP language and that the Security Council will adopt measures. According to this account, RtoP and Council resolutions are both products of the gravity of the problem. However, there is no clear relationship between the number of deaths and the likelihood that RtoP will be invoked. In the period examined, the median estimated number of deaths in cases where RtoP was invoked was 750, compared with 727 for cases where it was not. The median estimated number of deaths for cases where RtoP was invoked and the Security Council adopted measures was 788, higher again but not sufficiently so to suggest that casualty rates were a determining influence. There were two cases of mass killing (Pakistan and India) where RtoP was not invoked and the Council took no action in which the estimated death tolls were greater than in six other cases where RtoP was invoked and the Council did adopt measures. Alternatively, of the ten deadliest episodes of anti-civilian violence 2006-2011 – RtoP was invoked only in relation to seven and the Security Council acted in only five of the cases.
Expressed this way, it appears that RtoP has a type of ‘securitizing’ function in that invocation of the principle elevates a particular crisis above ‘normal politics’ and demands that the Security Council respond. The principle’s capacity to generate the will and consensus to act is limited (in only half of the relevant cases was invocation followed by a Resolution) but comparing cases where it was invoked with those where it was not clearly indicates that it adds value.
Alex Bellamy – Human Protection Hub