The Responsibility to Protect and the “Migrant Crisis”

By Dr Alex J Bellamy


Image: ©UNHCR/I.Prickett

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) entails a responsibility to provide safe flight and asylum to those fleeing atrocity crimes. Yet some of those states that are the loudest advocates of R2P have been among the most reticent to extend protection to individuals fleeing atrocity crimes.  Adopting new and tougher restrictions, such as arbitrary detention and financial penalties, aimed at deterring asylum seekers, these states are not only failing to uphold their responsibility to protect, they are also fundamentally undermining International Refugee Law. This needs to change, and we need to recognize the centrality of asylum to the implementation of R2P.

Agreed at the 2005 World Summit, and reaffirmed by both the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council (which has now passed 43 resolutions referring to the principle), R2P rests on three mutually reinforcing pillars: (I) the responsibility of each state to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and from their incitement; (II) the international community’s responsibility to encourage and assist states in protecting their own populations; and (III) the international community’s responsibility to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these atrocity crimes and, when that is judged inadequate and national authorities are “manifestly failing” to protect their population, to take timely and decisive action through the UN Charter. As the UN Secretary-General emphasized in 2012, R2P is universal and enduring. It applies everywhere and all the time inasmuch as there is never a situation in which states, and the international community, do not have a responsibility to protect populations from atrocity crimes.[1]  We should therefore never ask whether R2P applies, but rather what can be done to fulfill it. And governments should never look to others to shoulder their responsibilities. R2P is a responsibility that demands something of everyone.

When atrocity crimes are committed, as they have been on a massive scale in Syria, one of the things that determines whether civilians caught between barrel bombs and beheadings live or die is their capacity to flee from immediate harm. The more a targeted group is able to find refuge from violence, the lower the number of casualties from direct violence is likely to be. When civilian populations are trapped in besieged communities, such as Homs, Aleppo, Malakal, and Yarmouk in Syria – and Srebrenica in Bosnia two decades ago – the death toll from atrocities can reach astronomical scales, as indeed it has in Syria and did in Bosnia. When foreign countries refuse to permit refugees fleeing for their lives to land on their territory they contribute to the death toll. That is a lesson that should have been learned in Europe and North America in the 1930s. Back then, instead of facilitating the flight of Jews from Nazi Germany they prohibited. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who might have escaped the Holocaust did not because they were denied asylum in third countries.

But the granting of asylum is only part of the story. As we have come to learn only too well in the Aegean, the downside is that displacement significantly increases an individual’s exposure to harm. Flight, especially across water, is difficult and dangerous. Fleeing across land exposes individuals to a crippling loss of assets and the risk of attack. Most of the world’s displaced are deprived the “essentials of life,” namely shelter, food, medicine, education, community and a resource base for self-reliant livelihood. Indeed, mortality rates among displaced populations are higher than among almost any other group, with the exception of those who stay behind to face the violence. Refugee camps, such as those that have sprung up across Jordan, are sometimes quite violent places. Women and girls can face particular protection challenges, including significant threats of sexual violence and exploitation.

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Overcoming the Gender Gap

Sarah Hewitt


This blog is based on a recently published article by Sarah Hewitt, “Overcoming the Gender Gap: The Possibilities of Alignment between the Responsibility to Protect and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda”, Global Responsibility to Protect 8/1: 3-28 (2016). To remain up to date with GR2P Issues and to submit your own article to GR2P, kindly visit here.

This week the UN Commission on the Status of Women meets in New York for its 60th session to discuss the priority theme: Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development. The responsibility of governments to ensure women’s empowerment is one held by multiple actors and institutions and is, I argue in my article, directly relevant to both the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) agendas.

In the article I examine the relationship between the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The WPS agenda is the most comprehensive policy articulation of gender issues in peace and security. It is based upon United Nations Security Council Res. 1325, passed unanimously in October 2000. UNSC Res. 1325 addresses the unique and different impacts of conflict on women and men, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in conflict and the importance of women’s empowerment and inclusion as respected agents in international peace and security.[1] The resolution, and the WPS agenda more widely that consists of an additional 7 UNSC resolutions, follows a general three-pillar mandate: prevention of violence and derogation of rights; protection from violence; and participation in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.[2] Laura Shepherd and Jacqui True add a fourth pillar: identifying the structural social, political and economic conditions required for sustainable and lasting peace.[3]

In the article I address the following question: are there any potential overlaps that exist between these two normative frameworks to provide a more holistic gender-sensitive approach to conflict prevention, protection, and post-conflict reconstruction? The article questions where there is a lack of women and women’s participation regarding decision-making, designing, and implementing policies concerning conflict and peace. Both R2P and the WPS agenda hinge upon the same central tenets of prevention, protection, and participation, but women’s involvement in R2P and within wider UN peacebuilding efforts is grossly deficient. I expand on existing literature by explicitly mapping the overlaps between the R2P and WPS frameworks and how they can be normatively and practically aligned. [4] First, I examine the development of the WPS agenda and how it has extended women’s human rights and gender equality architecture, becoming the eminent reference to women’s security. Second, I review existing feminist critiques of the R2P principle. Third, I focus on the three central and parallel tenets of R2P and the WPS agenda.

In the article I identify three common intersecting commitments of these two normative frameworks to provide a more holistic, gender-sensitive approach to conflict. First I consider conflict prevention, specifically early warning mechanisms and the incorporation of gender-sensitive indicators. Next, protection is analysed as to the potential for ensuring women’s participation and mainstreaming gender in peacekeeping missions. Lastly I examine post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. The post-conflict phase is extremely complex, thus I concentrate on the importance of women’s participation and representation in peace processes. A feminist perspective that analyses the socially constructed gender binaries based upon masculine/feminine characteristics underpins the article. These characteristics that are inherent in conflict, peace, protection, and security are highlighted.

I argue that locating women’s experiences in conflict and peace contributes to transforming R2P into a holistic gender-sensitive vehicle for protection and prevention of conflict. I conclude that identifying common areas of engagement could potentially effect positive changes for women and men on the ground in conflict prevention and protection, and post-conflict reconstruction.

Sarah Hewitt is a postgraduate student at the Gender Peace and Security Initiative, School of Social Sciences, Monash University. She is a research assistant on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Asia Pacific research project.

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By Dr Phil Orchard



Image: ©UNHCR/I.Prickett

Post originally published in the Australian Outlook

With the situation in Syria showing no signs of improvement, the influx of asylum seekers into Europe continues. However Europe is beginning to close its doors to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees on its doorstep. 

The refugee problem currently facing Europe is immense. In 2015, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimated that more than a million migrants crossed the Mediterranean. 84 percent of these came from the top 10 refugee-producing countries in the world. Another 74,000 have arrived in the first five weeks of this year. Alarmingly, the journey to Europe remains incredibly perilous. So far this year, at least 374 people have died. At this rate, last year’s 3,770 estimated deaths will likely be eclipsed.

These figures pale in comparison with the total population displaced by the Syrian civil war, a conflict which has created 5.3 million refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced persons. The vast majority of these remain in the countries around Syria: 2.5 million in Turkey, 1 million in Lebanon, and between 636,000 and 1.27 million in Jordan. These countries are at their tipping point. Moreover, Turkey has announced that it has reached its capacity to take new refugees and has closed its border to the 35,000 Syrians who have fled their government’s recent offensive.

After a long period of neglect, donors are making welcome contributions to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and its immediate neighbours. Recently, a commitment has been made to provide more than $US10 billion in assistance. Having said this, resettlement remains a critical and necessary part of the international response. However this is becoming increasingly difficult.


High Level Advisory Panel’s Public Seminar in Phnom Penh on Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect


Download the latest Spotlight on R2P for the event summary of the High Level Advisory Panel’s Public Seminar in Phnom Penh: Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect.

The third public seminar on mainstreaming the Responsiblility to Protect was held on the 12th of August 2015 in Phnom Penh and follows events in Bangkok (in October 2014) and Jakarta (in January 2015). It was attended by over 50 local participants, including ambassadors from China, Japan, and Germany, representatives from ASEAN member states, senior Cambodian government officials, representatives from the academe, civil society groups, and the media.

It is a significant follow up activity in Cambodia after a successful conference on R2P held in Phnom Penh early this year as it reinforced the value of continuing public awareness campaigns in promoting R2P and mass atrocities prevention across the region. Former ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, who is also Chair of the HLAP, was the guest of honour and keynote speaker at the seminar.

The seminar involved discussing the role of ASEAN in promoting R2P, and gave a number of recommendations for implementing R2P in the region. These included using existing structures such as the ASEAN International Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to create early warning mechanisms; promoting regional cooperation and exchange of knowledge and information; supporting the work of civil society groups; and ratifying relevant human rights treaties. In response to some issues raised by participants, such as whether it is the task of the region’s states or the most powerful states to implement R2P on behalf of the international community, Dr. Surin stressed that it is the role of regional organisations like ASEAN to take the lead in their own region because they are the ones directly affected.

Healing or Harming?

United Nations Peacekeeping and Health.

Reposted from

On November 12th, IPI hosted a policy forum event focusing on the complex relationship between UN peacekeeping and health, examining challenges and opportunities in facilitating access for humanitarian aid agencies and delivering health assistance directly.

Click here to view the event video on YouTube>>

As part of the Providing for Peacekeeping series, IPI recently published a report by Sara E. Davies and Simon Rushton titled “Healing or Harming? United Nations Peacekeeping and Health.”

The presentations also focused on health threats UN peacekeeping can present to the host population, as well as health risks UN peacekeepers in challenging environments often face.

The policy forum brought together specialists from within the United Nations, the Secretariat, member states, and civil society to discuss some of the issues raised and the recommendations made by the authors. The purpose was to hold a discussion on the responsibilities of UN peacekeepers with regard to relevant agencies, the host state, humanitarian organizations, and the civilian population in the provision of humanitarian and health assistance.



Sara E Davies and Jacqui True

Post originally published in Australian Outlook

Last month saw an historic High-Level Open Debate in New York at the UN Security Council to review the progress over the 15 years since the adoption of UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security.  

The overwhelming consensus of the high-level debate is that failure to deliver on achieving women’s equal participation, protection, and contribution to the prevention of conflict is severely undermining the prospects for sustainable peace around the world. As UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said:  “At a time when armed extremist groups place the subordination of women at the top of their agenda, we must place women’s leadership and the protection of women’s rights at the top of ours.” Ban highlighted that the “one common theme” across the reviews of the UN Peace Operations, Peacebuilding Architecture, and Women, Peace and Security in 2015 is that “any reforms must include gender equality and women’s leadership as central ingredients, and must be strongly grounded in human rights”.

UNSCR 1325 was the product of a transnational advocacy network that has continued to be remarkably successful in prying open the powerful Security Council to challenge who’s international peace and security the Council should protect. The October debate  provides further evidence of that innovation. A record 110 speakers made official statements including governments, regional organisations and three civil society representatives. There was a spontaneous round of applause when the Security Council adopted Resolution 2242 and clapping after many statements. Also unheralded, the debate was allowed to run over to a second day, continuing for more than 11 hours by the SC Chair, the President of Spain, Mariano Rajoy Brey. The actual date of the Open Debate was brought forward more than 10 days, because Spain’s President wanted to chair it and be present together with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


15 Years of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 Women Peace and Security – review and outlook

Courtesy of Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

Swiss1325 Final Conference Messages

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Maison de la Paix, 9 Septembre 2015

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) remains a milestone resolution as it changed perceptions and drove government action. The women, peace and security agenda is a transformative agenda promoting women as actors of peace and security and linking gender equality with the human security agenda.

International Geneva is an important platform to accelerate implementation of the women, peace and security framework as it hosts a large number of key organisations. The creation of the Gender and Diversity Hub at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva will contribute to strengthening gender mainstreaming in hard security issues. The Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat will provide a new opportunity for UN Member States, including Switzerland as its host, to show their commitment to UNSCR 1325.

Sustainable peace requires an integrated approach based on coherence between political and security measures, as well as the humanitarian, development, and human rights agendas. Gender equality and resolution 1325 must be at the centre of all. We also need to link resolution 1325 to the implementation of the new 2030 agenda for sustainable development with an emphasis on goal 5 on gender equality and goal 16 on inclusive and peaceful societies as an excellent opportunity to further enhance coherence of peace promotion and development policies.

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