Preventing Mass Atrocity Crimes: The Responsibility to Protect and the Syria Crisis

By Williams, Paul R.; Ulbrick, J. Trevor et al. | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Preventing Mass Atrocity Crimes: The Responsibility to Protect and the Syria Crisis


Williams, Paul R., Ulbrick, J. Trevor, Worboys, Jonathan, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


CONTENTS

I.   INTRODUCTION

II.  BACKGROUND TO THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT DOCTRINE

        A. Kosovo

        B. The Right of Humanitarian Intervention

III. EMERGENCE OF THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT DOCTRINE

        A. Content of the ICISS Report

        B. UN Evolution of R2P

IV. R2P's THIRD PILLAR AND THE USE OF FORCE

        A. Pillar Three o/ the Responsibility to Protect

        B. Libya

V. R2P AND THE SYRIA CRISIS

        A. Preventing and Halting Atrocity Crimes When the Security
           Council Fails to Act

        B. Pillar Three of the Responsibility to Protect When the
           Security Council Fails to Act

           1. A prima facie case must be established

           2. Peaceful options must be exhausted

           3. The Security Council must be unable to act

           4. Military force must be limited to low-intensity options
              designed to protect populations

           5. The use of low-intensity military force must be
              authorized by a legitimate authority

           6. The intervention must come at the request of credible
              opposition groups

VI.  CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a complicated and "emerging norm" (1) of international law that seeks to provide a means for the international community to prevent mass atrocity crimes occurring within the boundaries of a sovereign state. (2) Since its emergence in 2001, in the wake of humanitarian tragedies in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur, R2P has been hailed as a way of resolving what one commentator called the "problem from hell." (3) Under R2P, however, the use of force is reserved for actions within the UN Charter's Chapter VII framework. As the Syria crisis has demonstrated, this position continues to hinder efforts by the international community to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.

This article argues that when peaceful measures have been exhausted and the Security Council is deadlocked, R2P's third pillar should allow the use of only those low-intensity military options, such as no-fly zones and humanitarian safe havens, that are focused on protecting populations. This approach would advance R2P's development by establishing specific criteria that allow for the limited use of force when the Security Council fails to act. In doing so, R2P will be able to fulfill its primary purpose of preventing mass atrocities within a sovereign state, thus preventing humanitarian tragedies similar to those witnessed in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and now Syria.

At the time of writing, attacks by Syrian government forces and militias have killed upward of 75,000 civilians, and approximately 1,000,000 refugees have fled into neighboring states. (4) The international community has tried to resolve the Syria crisis through diplomatic overtures and sanctions, but its attempts have been unsuccessful. Although the UN Human Rights Council has concluded that Syria's humanitarian crisis is being driven by a "state policy" of deliberate attacks against civilians, (5) military intervention by the Security Council has not been forthcoming.

Russia and China oppose any coercive measures against Syria, with Russia contending that the international community should "strictly adhere to the norms of international law. ..." (6) While Russia's opposition is likely grounded in their strategic self-interest, (7) some states remain concerned that humanitarian action "could be abused by powerful states as justification for interventions that serve their political interests." (8) Given the Security Council's ineffectiveness in the Syria crisis, some commentators have argued that R2P advocates must either "mobilize a coalition of the willing" to intervene in Syria or "let R2P ... rest in peace." (9) Others have called for reform of the Security Council where mass atrocity crimes are at issue, (10)

The Syria crisis highlights the current limitations of the R2P doctrine.

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