Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails

By Christopher J. Coyne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Man of the Humanitarian System

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) released a report in 2001 titled The Responsibility to Protect. The origin of this report was a question posed by then secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan in his Millennium Report. Within the context of ongoing debates regarding the moral responsibilities of governments to protect the citizens of other sovereign states, Annan asked, “[I]f humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica—to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?”1 The debate over the responsibility of government to undertake humanitarian action had been raging for years, with plenty of examples of both intervention and non-intervention to fuel the discussion: for example, intervention in Somalia, Haiti, East Timor, Bosnia, and Yugoslavia, and non-intervention in Darfur, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In response to Annan’s question, the Canadian government established ICISS, which introduced the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) concept in their report of the same title. R2P is a set of normative principles based on the idea that state sovereignty is a responsibility and not a right. It begins with the premise that sovereign states have a duty to protect their citizens from serious harms, and if a government is unable to provide this protection, it is the moral responsibility of other governments to fill the gap. In such cases, state sovereignty yields to the international responsibility to intervene to protect those who are suffering. Under the R2P principles, action by external governments can vary depending on the context and might include mediation, diplomacy, military intervention, or building state and security capacity in the country where citizens are suffering.

In 2005, the R2P concept was embraced at the United Nations’ World Summit meeting, where member states included the doctrine in the 2005

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