R2P and Gender: the Marginalization of Responsibilities

Sara Davies

Piece originally appeared in E-IR.  Thanks to Hannah Partis-Jennings for the invitation.

In 2012, Sarah Teitt and I wrote an article titled ‘Engendering the Responsibility to Protect’.[1] In that piece we explored the potential for shared advocacy between the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agendas.  We agreed that prior critiques of R2P as ‘gender blind’ were fair.  However, we were concerned that most of this critique focused on the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which had originally coined the phrase ‘R2P’.[2]  We argued that while the ICISS report did adopt a problematic stance on gender, there was a need to update the gendered analysis of R2P to take account of developments since its adoption at the 2005 World Summit. We also questioned whether R2P was necessarily gender blind and suggested that problems could be addressed by understanding areas of potential symmetry between the two agendas.

In that article, we emphasized that, today, discussion of R2P must start with the definition of the principle that was laid out in paragraphs 138-140 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document,[3] passed at the 2005 United Nations General Assembly.  This is the authoritative version of R2P, which all UN member states have affirmed and which they recognize and debate in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, to this day. In this definition, which was further clarified by the first report of the UN Secretary-General on the subject, released in 2009, we observed an approach that emphasized prevention over reaction, participation at the local level over intervention from the international level.  In his 2009 report, the Secretary-General was at pains to emphasize three pillars that were fundamental to the realization of R2P: the enduring responsibility of the state to protect people (prevention), the responsibility of the international community to assist the state with meeting their obligation; and, only in light of state failure or unwillingness to prevent crimes against its population, the situation would be referred to the UN Security Council.  There was no obligation laid out concerning humanitarian invention, protection at any costs, nor indeed, was the view expressed that protection would always be achievable – an understandably honest concession given the political history of the UN Security Council when it came to effective and timely deployment of action to protect civilians and the complexity and intractability of some conflicts which give rise to genocide and mass atrocities. 

The enduring focus of the R2P principle, encapsulated by the now five reports that have been published by the UN Secretary-General to date, is on mobilizing state authorities to fulfil their primary responsibility to protect through the prevention of these crimes. As Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted at the 2013 UN General Assembly “Let us…remember that the responsibility to protect seeks not only to protect populations at the eleventh hour but, first and foremost, to prevent crises from erupting at all’.[4] 

The WPS agenda, laid out in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000),[5] has a three pillar framework that identifies women as specifically threatened and excluded from political processes that give rise to conflict and exacerbate their insecurity in a way that is gendered and distinct from a man’s experience of war.   The 1325 WPS three pillar framework (prevention, protection and participation) underlines the responsibility of states, regional organizations and international organizations to commit to action the addresses the three pillars. Specifically, it calls for women’s participation in preventative diplomacy and equal representation in political processes; recognition of the particular protection needs of women during conflict; and calls for women’s participation in the political and peace building processes.

What was striking was the shared interest between the two agendas on the benefit of preventive diplomacy, first and foremost.  In our observation of both the WPS literature and the R2P reports that were coming from the Office for the Prevention of Genocide, as well as its key New York civil society advocates (the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, Global Action to Prevent War and Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect), it was clear that both agendas were unanimous in the view that protection entailed much more than simply waiting on UN Security Council action to end mass atrocities. This, the two agendas agree would be too little and too late.  As such, we sought to clear misconceptions concerning R2P as much as address its problematic history of perceived gender blindness – and the risk that these would impinge on future engagement between R2P and WPS advocates.

The R2P definition and implementation agenda discussed at the UN Headquarters by civil societystates and UN good offices sometimes sounds quite different to the one most popularly portrayed and discussed in sections of the academic literature. Interestingly, this has not remained the case concerning engagement with gender engagement and discussion concerning potential of R2P principle.  Eli Stamnes, Jennifer Bond and Laurel Sherret, amongst others, [6] have noted that the post-2005 R2P principle departs from the 2001 ICISS definition quite radically. As such, opportunities for gender specific understanding and implementation of R2P at the state, regional and international level are evident – and are complementary to Resolution 1325’s (2000) three pillar framework – in ways that would not have been possible without the UN Secretary-General’s focus on R2P’s preventive dimensions.

Such endorsement of R2P does not mean that the R2P agenda is not at risk of being gender blind. It must not be forgotten who is responsible for the implementation and enduring obligation to fulfill R2P – states, regional organizations and international organizations.  In light of the horrific tragedy in Syria, the ‘failings’ of R2P are arguably not located in the principle itself but those invested with the responsibility to fulfill their protection obligations.  R2P is not a person or an institution, but the obligation to prevent mass atrocities and protect all people from mass atrocity crimes is to be realized by people and institutions. As such, I will detail some observations on the actors who I identify as having obligations to advocate for gendered approaches within R2P implementation framework, and to reach out to the WPS agenda.

As noted in the 2013 report of the UN Secretary-General Report on the Responsibility to Protect, gender discrimination gives rise to specific acts of violence based on sex and sexual identity, it also gives rise to the normalization of violence and legitimatization of excluding some members of society from equal access to political, social and economic opportunities.[7] It is imperative that states are reminded of their responsibilities pertaining to gender inequality. Yet, at present, there remain few opportunities outside of the UN Security Council to understand how situations of gender inequality may enhance the risk of mass atrocities or to direct preventive diplomacy to those situations.

One option is to bring the WPS and R2P communities of activists, primarily located in New York, together to discuss shared areas of focus and cases of mutual concern.  This could be facilitated as a working group on women and R2P – a suggestion put forward by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.

Similarly, there must be deeper engagement with gender inequality, gendered discrimination and the role of the R2P principle in assisting states to address these human rights violations. It would be an important step forward for R2P friendly states to specifically address this issue at their annual Ministerial Meeting of the Responsibility to Protect, organized by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.[8]  To date, there is no record of such a discussion.

At the same time, the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser of the Prevention of Genocide and the Special Adviser for the Responsibility to Protect could detail an exploratory paper on R2P and WPS. One that, specifically, provides deeper analysis of the state, regional and international level responsibilities to address the relationship between gender inequality and human rights atrocities noted in the 2013 report of the UN Secretary-General on R2P.  Of course, such a report would need to be written in consultation with the UN Secretary-General Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, and WPS division of UN Women.

Such cross-institutional collaboration would likely be welcomed by (at least, some) member states if delegates’ statements at the 2013 United Nations General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on R2P, are any indication. Delegates from Brazil, Cote D’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand[9] all specifically referred to the importance of prevention action that is gender sensitive; and emphasized the relationship between R2P and WPS in noting that sexual and gender based violence in armed conflict are R2P crimes.  Indeed, the 2013 Informal Dialogue had the highest number of references to WPS and gender to date, since these dialogues began in 2009.

It is not enough to say R2P must have a gendered approach without identifying who is responsible for taking forward this approach and identifying what we think such an approach should look like.  Refusal to see potential for cross-cutting issues in these agendas limits the capacity of both agendas to achieve their common goals.  The WPS community has a vital role in contributing to this debate. The WPS agenda has a longer history at the state, regional and international level that is of value to the R2P community to progress mutual agendas, particularly the prevention of mass atrocities.  Mutual engagement does not deny or undermine WPS’s broader agenda beyond mass violence; but it could potentially deepen the commitment of states and international organizations if the forces of responsibility to protect and women’s peace and security combined on areas of mutual concern.


[1] Sara E. Davies and Sarah Teitt, ‘Engendering the Responsibility to Protect’, Global Responsibility to Protect4 (2) 2012, p. 198-222.

[2] International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001).

[3] United Nations General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome, A/60/ L.1 (15 September 2005).

[4] Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, ‘Opening Remarks, UN General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention (13 September 2013). http://www.globalr2p.org/resources/471

[5] United Nations Security Council Resolution ‘Women, Peace and Security’, S/1325 (31 October 2000).

[6] See contributors in Special Issue: R2P and Sexual and Gender Based Violence, Global Responsibility to Protect, 4 (2) 2012.

[7] United Nations General Assembly, ‘Responsibility to protect: State responsibility and prevention. Report of the Secretary-General’, A/67/929–S/2013/399, 9 July2013, p.5, 7-8.

[8] See Summaries of Previous Annual R2P Ministerial Meetings, Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect. http://www.globalr2p.org/our_work/annual_r2p_ministerial_meeting

[9] See ‘United Nations General Assembly holds fifth informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect focusing on the theme of state responsibility and prevention’, Overview and Statements Delivered, International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/component/content/article/35-r2pcs-topics/5004-united-nations-general-assembly-holds-fifth-informal-interactive-dialogue-on-the-responsibility-to-protect

Mind the Ethical Gap: Australian refugee policy

Sara Davies[1]

What is it to be ethical in politics? We often talk about political action that is popular, legal, or indeed, legitimate.  But what if an act is popular and legal – but not ethical?  When should this omission concern the population in a democratic environment?

The issue of asylum seekers arriving by boat into Australian waters has been discussed in both parliament and election campaigns with much emotional rancour, even fear, since the Norwegian freighter Tampa rescued people at risk of drowning in international waters and attempted to bring them to port in Australian waters in 2001.  Even before this incident, Australian society, media and politics have a history of histrionics regarding boat arrivals.

Ethics – which is different from politics or legality – are something often called for but seldom honoured in political discussions concerning asylum seekers.  The introduction of the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders response to asylum seekers who arrive by boat (consisting of: no onshore processing, tow back into international waters if safe to do so, and no information released on arrivals, policy or interceptions to media).  The tragedy last week on Manus Island – long foretold and predicted – and in the last forty-eight hours, the Australian government’s request that the Cambodian government hosts asylum seekers intercepted from Australian shores have brought these issues to the fore once again.  Politicians discuss these events in terms of bureaucratic deterrence and efficiency, national security and legality. There is no doubt that politicians will attempt to message away these sorry events, but can they mind the ethical gap they expose?  Certainly, Australian politicians’ talking points on refugees have generally failed to silence other nation’s concerns regarding our policy and its regional ramifications.

Often when called by the media to comment on these stories, three questions commonly asked are: 1) what is Australia’s legal responsibility concerning situation X? 2) how will Indonesia/region respond to suggestion/situation X? and 3) will policy X work? I am increasingly concerned however with the question less asked: Is ‘suggestion/situation/policy X’ ethical?  What are our humanitarian obligations to people who request asylum, and what are the wider implications for Australia and the world of a policy that shows scant regard for our responsibility to protect asylum seekers, especially given our wealth, our political stability and history of peaceful migration?

Take, for example, the suggested Cambodian transfer scheme – even if the Australian government found a loophole to make this transfer legal, the Cambodian government proved to be a willing accomplice, and the policy deterred asylum seekers – would it be ethical? Is this how we should treat human beings, let alone one of our poorest neighbouring states?

Finally, is this the way in which Australia, a member of the United Nations Security Council for 2013 and 2014, wants to build its regional and international reputation?  In February 2013, Australia – sitting on the United Nations Security Council – agreed to a Presidential Statement in the Security Council that noted the Protection of Civilians is an obligation held by the international community.  In the statement it was specifically noted that the protection of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing situations of political instability, conflict and humanitarian crisis is an obligation shared by states and a burden that is relieved when all states fulfil their duties in this area.  When governments fulfil their duty to protect civilians who flee in fear of their lives through the provision of refuge the humanitarian burden in conflict situations is eased and the risk of wider regional instability reduced. Australia could have been an exemplary Security Council member – whose actions outside the Council could have been as commendable as its work at the table – had Canberra been prepared to meet the responsibilities it set for others in the Security Council chamber.

The Australian government has the capacity to protect Australia people and goods that seek to threaten and harm it. There is no legal remedy unavailable to our Australian government to protect Australian citizens from a person arriving by boat or plane should it be required.  Indeed, Australian citizens and travellers who arrive with a tourist visa – due to our large volume and relative ease upon entry – are more likely to be a security or health risk than those who arrive by boat seeking asylum.

Australia is safe and secure, and asylum seekers do not change these material realities.  It has a moral responsibility to do all it can to protect civilians fleeing humanitarian crises and human rights abuse.  Indeed, that is what Australia has agreed to when it voted in favour of Security Council resolutions saying as much.  When will politicians’ despair and horror for what civilians in Syria and Central African Republic currently endure extend to generosity to those who flee terror in these and other parts of the world?

Closer to home, what is the ethical legacy of our position regarding people who are trying to find a better life in our stable, wealthy democracy?  Events on Manus Island call upon us to ask deeper questions about our responsibility for the dangerous situations we place asylum seekers in to avoid caring for them.  GetUp’s LighttheDark events around Australia on 23 February 2014 showed that more and more people are concerned with both our main political parties failing to take an ethical stand on refugee policy. For those who think these questions do not matter should take heed of history. This year, on the 80th anniversary of the year that Adolf Hitler came to power, we should all reflect on the world’s failure to provide refuge to Germany’s Jews, thousands of whom were denied asylum by countries including Australia. It was the events that followed this monstrous moral failure that led to the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Yet we seem to continue to miss the important lesson.

[1] Yes, this is a word play on the London Tube’s Mind the Gap posters.  This blog reflects a personal opinion and should not be associated with any institution with which I am affiliated.

Libyan Case a Red Herring in Syria Dilemma

This post was originally posted on IPI Global Observatory. Thank you for permission to reblog.

The international community’s failure to respond in a timely and decisive fashion to the crisis in Syria has been widely described as a failure of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). It is not hard to see why: the UN Security Council has fallen well short of adopting “timely and decisive” measures as approximately 120,000 people have been killed and close to nine million displaced. Syria thus stands as a test for RtoP that most commentators believe it has failed.

One of the principal explanations for this apparent failure is the political fallout from the NATO-led intervention in Libya. 

Key Conclusions 

  • The Security Council’s failure to adopt a timely and decisive response to the situation in Syria is often attributed to the political backlash from NATO’s controversial intervention in Libya.
  • Voting patterns and statements offered in the Council’s Syria debates as well as the Council’s wider practice since 2011 provide little evidence of a direct link between the two cases.
  • The Council’s failure on Syria more likely stems from complexities and geopolitics associated with the Syrian case itself.


According to Gareth Evans, one of RtoP’s progenitors, “Consensus [about RtoP] has simply evaporated in a welter of recrimination about how the NATO-led implementation of the Council’s Libya mandate…was actually carried out. We have to frankly recognize that there has been some infection of the whole RtoP concept by the perception, accurate or otherwise, that the civilian protection mandate granted by the Council was manifestly exceeded by that military operation.”

Has the “infection” of RtoP stymied the chances of consensus on Syria? Would the Security Council’s response to Syria have been different without Libya and RtoP? Despite the ubiquity of the association between Libya and Syria in public commentary, evidence of a clear link between the two cases is surprisingly thin. 

First, Russian and Chinese explanations of their own (shifting) positions on Syria have not been consistent in emphasizing the legacy of Libya. In fact, China has yet to raise Libya in its formal comments on Syria addressed to the Security Council. The place of Libya in Russian thinking on Syria has been inconsistent at best. In explaining its first veto on a draft Syria resolution, in October 2011, Russia railed against NATO’s actions in Libya but added a series of other, pragmatic arguments to support its case. Five months later, Russia vetoed a second resolution on Syria but made no reference to Libya in explaining its position. Then, as the previously endorsed Annan-plan unraveled later in 2012, Russia cast a third veto and ramped up the rhetoric on Libya to new heights. 

Second, several governments critical of the NATO-led action in Libya at times supported draft resolutions on Syria which were vetoed by Russia and China. This includes Brazil, India, and Pakistan. What is more, neither these governments nor South Africa voted against any of the draft resolutions. Nor did other non-permanent Council members from the Global South such as Nigeria, Togo, Morocco, Gabon, or Lebanon. Through all the Council’s deliberations on Syria, only South Africa joined Russia in mentioning concerns arising from Libya. 

Had Libya been among the principal factors behind voting patterns on Syria, one would have expected to see more states identify the connection between the two cases and a higher degree of uniformity in voting across those member states that were critical of NATO’s actions in Libya. After all why would the Libya precedent matter more to Russia than India? 

Third, the idea that consensus on RtoP has been damaged by the political fallout from Libya does not sit comfortably with the Council’s overall record since it authorized the use of force to protect civilians there in Resolution 1973 of March 2011. The Security Council has employed RtoP more often in the two years since the Libya intervention ended than in the more than five years between the 2005 World Summit, when UN member states endorsed RtoP, and the passing of Resolution 1973. 


In the 65 months between the World Summit and the Security Council’s first resolution on Libya in February 2011, the Council referred to RtoP just four times and only twice in relation to country situations. Since Resolution 1973, the Council has notched up 10 resolutions mentioning RtoP in a period of 33 months, including resolutions on Côte d’IvoireSouth Sudan, and Yemen in 2011; on Mali in 2012; and on the Central African Republic in 2013. The Council also referred to RtoP in its 2011 presidential statement onpreventive diplomacy and its 2013 statements on peace and security in Africa and on Syria

There is therefore little evidence to support the view that Libya has made the Council less willing to incorporate RtoP into its messaging and practice or that it has made it more difficult than it would otherwise have been to find a consensus on Syria. Not only has the Council referred to RtoP in substantive resolutions much more frequently since Resolution 1973 than before it, the inclusion of RtoP language in Council resolutions has become much less controversial than it once was.

All of this suggests that the Council’s paralysis on Syria owes more to the politics surrounding this specific case than to more generalized concerns about RtoP arising out of Libya. Rather than being a product of widespread international concerns stemming from the implementation of Resolution 1973 on Libya, the Security Council’s inability thus far to take timely and decisive action to protect Syrians from mass atrocities is more likely caused by two generic constraints on the Council that were identified by Edward Luck in 2006: (1) there are some problems that do not have feasible near-term solutions, and (2) the Council is “not above the vagaries of international politics. Indeed it is all about politics: local, national, regional and global.” It is the complex politics within and surrounding Syria that seems to hold the key, not the political fallout from Libya.

Alex J. Bellamy is Professor of International Security at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Australia; Honorary Professor of International Relations at The University of Queensland, Australia; and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He is a non-resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute. 

How Humanitarians Protect Populations Against Mass Atrocities (With Limits)

Originally published with IPI Global Observatory.

Humanitarian organizations can sometimes play a critical role in keeping people alive when populations are subjected to genocide and mass atrocities. For example, in Darfur, Sudan, international humanitarians and their local partners protected around two million civilians displaced by mass atrocities committed by Sudanese government forces and their allies, the now notorious Janjaweed militia, in 2003-4. So effective was the humanitarian response to the crisis in Darfur that by 2005, the region’s overall mortality rate had fallen to pre-war levels.1

When the storm of mass atrocities breaks, humanitarian agencies are often the only international presence on the ground. This was certainly true of Darfur, of Sri Lanka five years later, and of Syria as I write. But the relationship between humanitarian action, atrocity prevention, and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) has been fraught with difficulty. This piece briefly explores why and what can be done about it.

Key Conclusions

  • Whether it is acknowledged or not, humanitarian action can often make a positive contribution to the protection of populations from genocide and mass atrocities.
  • Humanitarians have been reluctant to embrace RtoP for a number of reasons, not least differences of principle, concerns about access and local cooperation, and fears that controversial political concepts might make humanitarian work more difficult—and dangerous.
  • Putting atrocity prevention and protection work and humanitarian action into different policy silos has not always delivered good policy.
  • Progress should be based on respect for humanitarian principles, recognition of the preventive and protective effects of work already undertaken, and acknowledgment of the fact that it is for individual organizations themselves to judge how they relate to the goals of RtoP and atrocity prevention.


Humanitarians help reduce the vulnerability of populations to mass atrocity crimes in many different ways. Most obviously, by targeting aid at especially vulnerable groups or—more controversially—at groups that might cause harm to others as part of their strategy for coping with the terrible situations they find themselves in. Other strategies focus on reducing exposure to threat, providing paid work to reduce the need to adopt risky coping strategies (as well as reducing competition for resources), reducing incentives for joining armed groups, and designing camps to maximize safety and minimize risk.

Fleeing Terror, Channel 4

Physical displacement is in itself a significant protection risk because it increases all manner of threats to individuals. To prevent displacement, some agencies have provided secure access to land. These strategies also help communities to sustain themselves and reduce dependency on displacement camps.

There are some circumstances, though, where flight offers the only hope of survival. Because it is so difficult and dangerous, making the right decisions about when to flee (and when not to), where to go, and by what route can be the difference between life and death. Recognizing all this, some humanitarian organizations developed programs to help local communities make better-informed decisions about their own protection by providing accurate information about the presence of threats and the location of assistance and safe routes.

Yet despite the obvious contributions that humanitarian assistance can make to the achievement of RtoP’s goal of protecting populations from mass atrocity crimes, most humanitarian organizations have been reluctant to endorse the principle. Even those that have, such as Oxfam, have thus far proven reticent to incorporate RtoP directly into their operational work. Why?

First, there is concern about the differences between humanitarian principles and RtoP. Humanitarian agencies are guided in their work by core humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, and humanity. RtoP requires that actors sometimes abandon impartiality and take sides in political struggles (that of the victims of mass atrocities).

Second, associating RtoP with humanitarian action could make it more difficult and dangerous for humanitarians to do their work. Humanitarian agencies rely on the consent and cooperation of governments, communities, and armed groups for access and more besides, often in environments where goodwill is in short supply. Any sort of linkage between humanitarian work and controversial political action could make life more difficult for the humanitarians.

Third, emphasizing the protective work done by humanitarians can create false assumptions about their capacity to protect civilians from genocide and mass atrocities. This could encourage political leaders to employ humanitarian action as a substitute for effective political action in response to protection crises.

Fourth, in the UN context, there are concerns that associating RtoP with humanitarian action and combining the two in so-called ‘integrated missions’ could result in the prioritization of politics over humanitarianism and diminish the independent humanitarian voice.

What is to be done? These concerns cannot be simply wished away but neither can the role played by humanitarian action in fulfilling the protection goals of RtoP. The division of RtoP and humanitarian action has not always delivered good policy, as the Sri Lanka case (2008-9) shows.

The UN Secretary-General offered a useful way of thinking about the issue in his 2012 report on RtoP:

‘Humanitarian agencies can help to protect populations and shield them from some of the worst effects of displacement. As such, humanitarian action is a critically important part of any ‘timely and decisive’ response. However, humanitarian action must never be used as a substitute for political action. It must also be understood that humanitarian action depends upon humanitarian space. To defend humanitarian space, the United Nations and the international community must respect the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence, humanity and impartiality.’

In this spirit, further dialogue on the relationship between humanitarian action and RtoP’s goals might consider three basic principles.

First, that whatever is done in the field should be done in a manner consistent with existing principles and operating procedures. Humanitarian action is sometimes able assist in protecting people from genocide and mass atrocities because of the principles that underpin it. It would be counterproductive to propose that RtoP should seek to amend or supplant these principles.

Second, recognition that humanitarian agencies already contribute to the achievement of RtoP’s goals. The key is not to establish new programs or layers of bureaucracy but to better understand and augment work that is already being done.

Third, in the UN context, the Secretary-General has always been clear in arguing that it is for individual organizations to decide how best to incorporate RtoP goals into their work. This is a maxim with wider appeal. What is needed is not a one-size-fits all solution but a two-way dialogue to better understand how protection is achieved and to better ensure that it can be.

1Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur: A New History of a Long War (London: Zed, 2008), pp. 172-3.

Alex J. Bellamy is Professor of International Security at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Australia; Honorary Professor of International Relations at The University of Queensland, Australia; and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He is a non-resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute. 

Australia and the Responsibility to Protect

Statement may also be located at Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect.

At the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations, commemorating 60 years since the birth of the United Nations, the responsibility to protect (R2P) was articulated as a shared commitment on the part of UN member states. In the intervening period, R2P has gained greater momentum as a framework for responding to, or trying to prevent, the outbreak of mass atrocities. The relative success of R2P prompted one leading scholar on global governance, Tom Weiss, to claim that ‘no idea has moved faster or farther in the international normative arena than R2P’.1

There are many reasons why R2P has transitioned from being an emerging norm, as it was spoken about in the middle of the last decade, to an action guiding norm that has widespread support today. Of these, there is no doubt that consistent and enduring support from successive Australian governments has been an important variable in explaining the evolution of R2P.2 Indeed, it should be remembered that there has been a bipartisan commitment to the protection of populations at risk from mass atrocities stretching back over many years. Recall that it was the government led by Prime Minister John Howard that undertook the interventions in

East Timor (1999) and the Solomon Islands (2003), both of which are now heralded as early examples underscoring the responsibility to assist states under stress and to protect populations at grave risk (in World Summit speak: Pillar 2 and Pillar 3 responsibilities). More recently, the bipartisan appeal of R2P prompted former Liberal Party Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to note that he was ‘at one’ with his long-serving Labour predecessor Gareth Evans in calling for Australia to show leadership in international affairs by making R2P ‘a major priority’.3

What follows is a brief analysis of the key drivers of the process of norm transmission that highlights Australia’s enduring contribution to the emergence, consolidation and institutionalisation of R2P. The analysis concludes with recommendations for Australia’s continued support for R2P under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Norm Promoter

The success of R2P owes a great deal to the clarity of the initial articulation by the International Commission on State Sovereignty and Intervention (ICISS). The work of this Commission, at the beginning of the century, shifted the focus from the ‘right’ of external states to intervene to the ‘responsibility’ of all states, first and foremost, to protect peoples in their jurisdiction from genocide and other crimes against humanity. Through his skillful co-chairing of the ICISS, former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was able to shape the agenda with respect to mass atrocity prevention and response. Finding a way to ‘sell’ R2P to a developing world that had rightly been suspicious of interventionist practices was a major challenge: it was met with the ingenious argument that R2P was a friend of sovereignty rather than its enemy. In other words, to be considered a worthy member of the UN system in the 21st century, it was necessary not just to have the attributes of sovereignty but to exercise that power legitimately. Sovereignty was never meant to be a tyrant’s charter.

Following the 2001 ICISS report, and the inclusion of R2P (at Evan’s insistence) in Kofi Annan’s High-Level Panel report, there followed a critical period in which diplomatic first movers such as Australia had to drive the agenda forward. A milestone achievement in this respect was the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, containing the three operative paragraphs about R2P (138, 139, 140).

Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, John Dauth, helped broker the global consensus that emerged at the World Summit, strongly supported by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. From 2005 to 2009, Ambassador Robert Hill ‘led the charge to implement the RtoP by stressing its relevance to the UN’s protection of civilians agenda’.4

Norm Consolidator: Staying the Course

From 2005 to the present, there has been on-going diplomatic support from key states at all levels in international society, including Security Council Permanent Members such as the UK and France, and dozens of other sovereign states in the UN—notably Australia—who are active members of the Secretary General’s ‘Group of Friends of R2P’.5 This support takes many forms: first, declaratory statements in the UN General Assembly or other multilateral institutions outlining the importance of atrocity prevention and/or the need for timely responses to the outbreak of mass atrocities; second, leveraging R2P to censure governments that are manifestly failing to protect their peoples; and third, reminding the international community of its responsibility to assist or coerce governments when a risk of atrocities is present or already occurring. This is precisely the diplomatic support Foreign Minister Bishop provided in her address to the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2013. Recalling that all UN member states had endorsed R2P at the 2005 World Summit, Julie Bishop reminded world leaders that the ‘first obligation of any government is to protect its own citizens’, and that Australia would continue to press for Security Council action to uphold this principle in Syria.6 This address came just a day after Foreign Minister Bishop chaired the Security Council meeting that marked the adoption of the first-ever Security Council resolution dedicated exclusively to the problem of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Drawing important linkages between the Council’s thematic agendas, this Australian-led resolution related the Council’s effort to control SALW to its obligations under R2P by underscoring that small arms have been implicated in grave crimes covered by the R2P principle (i.e. genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity).7

For each of the past five years, the General Assembly has held an informal dialogue on a yearly Secretary General’s report on R2P. Australia is one of only twenty governments that have participated in all five dialogues. The statement presented on behalf of the Australian government at this year’s debate held on 11 September 2013 demonstrates a full spectrum endorsement of R2P. The statement opened with a commitment to the R2P principle – ‘the exercise of sovereignty by a State comes with a fundamental responsibility to protect its populations from mass atrocity crimes’, before wholeheartedly getting behind the prevention initiatives in the Secretary General’s report (this year’s theme focused on the role of state governments in atrocities prevention). Embedded in the statement was a succinct analysis of the Syria crisis through the lens of R2P – summarised as follows: the host state had manifestly failed, the international community therefore has a responsibility to take effective action, and yet ‘the Council has failed to fulfil its responsibility to prevent further atrocities for over two years. It must now meet its responsibilities’.8

There have been many other norm consolidators in the ranks of UN member states. Yet it would be difficult to find another state in the UN system that has been more committed to R2P from 2001 to the present: Canada, by contrast, was an R2P promoter but it has subsequently ‘fallen by the wayside’.9 Moving in the opposite direction, countries that were previously cautious to the framework are now giving it their endorsement, including a number of Southeast Asian and Latin American states (such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Argentina and Brazil). The degree of consolidation is such that the Secretary-General and other leading advocates of R2P now talk about the challenge no longer being one of articulation but of implementation.

Norm implementer: Institutionalising R2P in domestic and international contexts

An engaged community of academics, practitioners, and advocacy networks has nudged the normative evolution of R2P forward. Several Australian governments have deemed this ‘epistemic community’ as being worthy of receiving modest yet targeted resources. Australia has provided funding to: the International Coalition for R2P to help build and mobilise a global network of NGOs seeking to advance R2P; the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) and their focal point initiative which supports governments to appoint a senior-level official responsible for the promotion of R2P at the national level (Australia co-chairs this initiative along with Denmark, Ghana and Costa Rica); as well as research led by the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P (AP R2P) to deepen understanding of atrocities prevention strategies and measures to institutionalize R2P at the state, regional and UN levels.

In its initial phase, AP R2P managed a $2m Australian R2P Fund which supported 14 research projects. Among these included a project on atrocities prevention led by Oxford Professor Jennifer M. Welsh, the newly appointed Secretary General’s Special Advisor for R2P. Professor Welsh recently joined a team at the UN Joint Office on Genocide Prevention and R2P, which the Australian government has funded to deepen the UN’s commitment to atrocities prevention, to raise alerts where there is risk such violence, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate remedial action. These examples of Australia’s willingness to match its rhetorical support for R2P with the resources to translate words into deeds have undoubtedly contributed to the resilience, conceptual development and long-term sustainability of the principle.

Enabling a community of the committed to advance R2P is an important contribution. Further progress, however, requires a great deal more than this. It needs a coalition of the committed among great powers, emerging powers, countries in the global north and the global south, and civil society organisations. It requires effective leadership in the UN system, in capitals of member states, and in key regional and international institutions.

Maintaining Momentum

Australia’s bipartisan and enduring commitment to R2P has made it a change agent in the transmission of the norm from its initial ‘promoter’ phase, through to ‘consolidation’ after the World Summit, and implementation during the last 5-8 years. Such forward movement should not be taken for granted – the near universal consensus that the sovereign state bears the primary responsibility to protect is not matched by a parallel convergence in the international community as to what should be done when the host state is manifestly failing in its protection responsibilities.

Building a norm is a painstaking task; it is one where consistent declaratory support must be matched by well-considered and appropriate resource allocation. Australia’s continued support for R2P relies on the government and its agencies taking difficult political decisions in a time of relative austerity.

We close by foregrounding what we in the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P think the government should prioritise – it is anticipated that each of these points will receive more extensive analysis in subsequent publications by AP R2P and in dialogue with the relevant agencies:

• Maintain active support for the Australian R2P ‘focal point’ – both in terms of sustaining the role in DFAT and building a wider international constituency for member states to initiate focal points.

• Commission a review of R2P activities and commitments across all relevant institutions of government (mapping these against the three pillar analysis favoured by the current Secretary-General).

• Ensure there is alignment between R2P and related UN Security Council thematic agendas, specifically protection of civilians, women, peace & security, children and armed conflict, and small arms and light weapons.

• Continue to dedicate targeted resources to maintaining the work of the R2P community of the committed, while at the same time better integrating their research and advocacy into work being done within DFAT.

• Use the 2014 year on the Security Council to advance R2P both thematically and as a policy response to specific issues/crises that are clamoring for the attention of the ‘15’.

• Encourage regional engagement on atrocities prevention in the Asia Pacific, Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific study group on R2P.

These initiatives would ensure that the consistent support given by Australian governments to R2P endures. Australia should remain at the forefront of the global effort to protect populations from mass atrocities.


1 Thomas G. Weiss, ‘R2P Alive and Well after Libya’, Ethics and International Affairs, 25:3 (2011), p.287.
2 As Alex Bellamy put it, ‘Australia‘s commitment to the RtoP has been bipartisan and enduring’. See Alex J. Bellamy, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and Australian Foreign Policy’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 64:4 (2010), p.436.
3 Alexander Downer, ‘Australia fumbles its chance at the United Nations’, The Adelaide Advertiser, 01 September 2013.
4 Alex Bellamy, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and Australian Foreign Policy’, p.436.
5 The Group of Friends of R2P is an informal group of states supportive of and seeking to advance the SG’s efforts to implement R2P. Australia is a member of the group, which is co-chaired by the Netherlands and Rwanda, and comprises some 40 states, a regional organisation and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
6 The Honourable Julie Bishop MP, ‘Building Global Security and Prosperity’, National Statement to the Opening of the General Debate of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, 27 September 2013.
7 S/RES/2117, Resolution of the United Nations Security Council, 26 September 2013. ‘Statement by Mr. Michael Bliss, Political Coordinator, Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations’, UN General Assembly, 11 September 2013.
8 Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, ‘R2P: A New and Unfinished Agenda’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 1:1 (2009), pp.54-69.

Preventing, Protecting and Empowering: Women, Peace and Security and R2P

Source: http://passblue.com/2012/02/07/for-syria-only-more-questions/hillarysc/

Views and recommendations expressed in this piece are to be solely attributed to Sara Davies.

On Thursday 25 October, Griffith Asia Institute’s Human Protection Hub held a workshop on Women, Peace and Security (WPS): opportunities for alignment with Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  With the assistance of colleagues from the Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect (University of Queensland) and the Centre of Governance and Public Policy (Griffith University), this event was among the first of its kind in policy and academic circles.

We were honoured to host distinguished guests including Michael Bliss, Assistant Secretary of International Organizations branch at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with colleagues from the Human Rights and International Law branches; Rosemary Cassidy, Senior Specialist in the Gender Equality Policy Section of AusAID and colleagues from the Humanitarian Policy Section; Assistant Commissioner Mandy Newton, National Manager of the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group; Mairi Steele, Branch Manager of the Women’s Branch in the Australian Government Office for Women, which is housed in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and her colleagues; and Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women Australia.   Discussants and presenters also came from Oxfam Australia, the Australian Civil-Military Centre, Office of National Assessments, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Australia, Australian National University, University of NSW, University of Queensland and Monash University.

The dialogue focused on three central themes:

1)   What states should do to realise the goals set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

2)   The advantages and disadvantages associated with the alignment of R2P with WPS in the fields of international policing and peacekeeping, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and transitional justice.

3)   The extent to which the structural prevention ambitions of WPS can be assisted by association with early warning and assessment mechanisms relating to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

In relation to the first issue, participants found that the promotion of WPS National Action Plans (NAP) offers great potential for raising awareness of the expectations associated with Resolution 1325 among governments.  Measures towards equitable representation in positions of authority, gender equality in legislation and political participation, are measures that contribute to international peace and security.  However, thus far only 37 states have adopted NAPs. Moreover, most of these do not include clear implementation targets or mechanisms to ensure progress can be monitored. In the case of post-conflict states, it was noted that while some may argue 1325 National Action Plans (NAP) are an unnecessary burden on fragile states, the counter-argument was that these Plans open up opportunities for civil society groups and marginalised women in various government positions to ‘push back’ and demand positive action in accordance with the NAP.  When there is no NAP, there are fewer opportunities for women to demand gender responsive policies and action.

Recommendation: specific workshops on WPS NAP best practice should be encouraged at the highest political level, particularly amongst regional organizations with the involvement of civil society organizations.

Women remain under-represented in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping missions and policing. The persistent relative absence of women in key positions makes it difficult to know whether female peacekeepers, police, judges and senior officials make a positive difference.

Recommendation: States and international organizations should introduce positive gender discrimination to increase the number of women engaged in conflict prevention, resolution and rebuilding and in senior positions in peacekeeping, policing and special political missions.

This requires new thinking on the training, sourcing and deploying gender responsive policing units from Security Council members and Troop Contributing Countries.  The deployment of such specialists will contribute the evidence base for further positive gender empowerment. Such measures could also assist with the collection of evidence relating to sexual violence and the prosecution of perpetrators, especially in those countries where the lack of female officers and other structural impediments make it difficult for victims to access justice.

Since the passage of the first Women, Peace and Security resolution (1325) by the Security Council in 2000, successive Security Council discussions on WPS have narrowed the focus to sexual violence in armed conflict (Resolutions 1820, 1889, 1890, 1960).  The recent debate concerning the Secretary-General’s latest report on WPS, and the view of some member states that WPS be further limited, is part of this concerning trend.  This concern has raised questions about the political success since 1325 in establishing awareness of the link between armed conflict and women’s daily lived experience, often characterised by domestic violence, inequality before the law, lack of access to education and constrained economic opportunities.  Participants noted that violence against women is more likely in politically fragile situations. The failure thus far to draw links between WPS and R2P raises the likelihood that states and international organizations will continue to fail to prevent sexual and gender based violence, in part because gender-specific considerations have not been built into early warning and assessment mechanisms relating to the ‘R2P crimes’ (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity). Indeed, it was noted that the academic literature on early warning tended to overlook the role of gender, gender inequality and gendered violence.

Recommendation: there is a need to better understand how the political economy of violence against women is related to R2P crimes, to understand the structural preconditions that make SGBV crimes more likely, and measures that might help reduce those underlying risks.

However, a number of concerns were raised about downside risks associated with the alignment of R2P and WPS:

First, there were concerns as to whether WPS was better understood as a Protection of Civilians (PoC) related agenda. Some participants suggested that PoC was more widely accepted than R2P and that it could be used to facilitate protection and humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict.  By contrast, R2P, they worried, was a controversial concept. Aligning it with WPS might further stymie political progress without adding practical operational value.

Second, some participants worried that the R2P principle effectively reduced women to the status of passive victims in need of protection.  R2P is premised the notion of the state as the primary ‘protector’ of the individual.  However, some states that do a good job of preventing the four R2P crimes do a very poor job of protecting women.  By reinforcing state sovereignty, some suggested, R2P might actually give fresh legitimacy to systems of domination that endanger and marginalise women.  Moreover, this narrative tends to downplay the extent to which women might also be perpetrators of crimes and the measures that women adopt to protect themselves.

Alternatively, a more optimistic view that was expressed sees initiatives such as Resolution 1325, R2P, PoC, the Children in Armed Conflict agenda as well as other initiatives such as MDGs beyond 2015, the evolution of the Human Rights Council, the work of the CEDAW Committee, the International Criminal Court and Peacebuilding Commission as steps towards addressing some of these problems and reconstituting the relationship between states and their female populations.

Clearly, more work is needed to clarify the connections between R2P and WPS as well as to identify and mitigate potential downside risks. As such, this workshop marks only the beginning of a dialogue on this issue. Plans are afoot to publish some of the papers from the workshop with in early 2013 as a springboard for further research and dialogue on these issues.

Sara Davies, Human Protection Hub

Further details on the workshop – program and pictures – will be made available at Human Protection Hub Events page in the coming week.

Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect: Alex Bellamy Remarks

New York, 5 September 2012

Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to offer some remarks to this informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect. I have followed the General Assembly’s deliberations on this subject with considerable interest. They have helped to clarify the concept, identify key challenges, and find ways of moving forward towards the achievement of our shared goal –a world free of the fear of genocide and other mass atrocities.

Mr. President,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Responsibility to Protect is universal and enduring; it applies everywhere, all the time. As the Secretary-General notes in his report, the question is not one of whether to apply the Responsibility to Protect – for that would imply that there are situations where a government does not have a responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – but of how best to achieve RtoP’s goals in each situation.  Continue reading “Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect: Alex Bellamy Remarks”