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Attempts to intervene in the Syrian and Myanmar crises have been hampered by political deadlock, leading even supporters of R2P to question its continued salience. Yet, upon closer consideration, Member States and other members of the international community have, by and large, upheld their protection responsibilities, via the creation of innovative mechanisms that have been used to bypass Security Council deadlock. Not only have these mechanisms served to uphold R2P in these two cases, they have created alternate pathways to operationalise R2P, thus serving to further advance the norm. The theoretical claim put forth is that norm violations have served as an alternate vehicle for norm advancement, as flagrant norm violations committed by the Syrian and Myanmar governments, as well as by the Security Council, have reminded members of the international community of the costs of failing to protect.
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R2P in Syria and Myanmar: Norm Violation and Advancement
Jenna B. Russo
Global Responsibility to Protect, May 2020, Brill
DOI: 10.1163/1875984x-01202006
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Understanding R2P's normative
trajectory based on perceived "failures"
in Syria and Myanmar
What is it about?
How do we understand R2P's normative trajectory given the perceived failures in
Syria and Myanmar? Despite the obstinacy of a select few, this article argues that
international actors by and large have continued to uphold their responsibilities to
protect. What's more, the agrant norm violations of the Security Council and the
Syrian and Myanmar Governments have galvanized members of the international
community to look for alternate pathways to uphold R2P, creating new modes of
Why is it important?
This article puts forth a new theory, suggesting that norm violation can serve as an
alternate vehicle for norm advancement.
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In 2005, the United Nations (UN) committed to a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) against four mass-atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. This was a clear commitment acknowledging that states hold responsibilities to consider the protection needs of domestic, and outside, populations. However, holding actors accountable to their R2P commitments is difficult due to the politicization of the norm and the international institutions for implementing it. The result is that the UN lacks the mechanisms for promoting R2P's successful implementation, meaning R2P breaches are all too common and that there is an urgent need to find ways to hold states accountable to their pledges. Applying transitional cosmopolitanism, which calls for an incremental approach in the pursuit of cosmopolitan solutions to contemporary global challenges, this article examines an entirely new and supplementary mechanism to assist in R2P's implementation. The article calls for the creation of an “R2P Commission.” This is a suggestion for a body composed of independent elected experts to scrutinize state practice across R2P's “three pillars.” It argues that an R2P Commission would provide an effective and feasible supplementary body to enhance R2P's implementation via determinations of where manifest R2P failures have occurred, review of international practice vis-à-vis atrocity prevention and response, and recommendations for altering practice and potential response action.
The article aims to contribute to ongoing debates on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and demonstrate how it became a powerful global assemblage. It challenges the existing perspectives that R2P constituted a robust international norm. In contrast to the (critical) social constructivist reading of R2P, I argue that R2P was assembled, stabilized, and revitalized through specific practices conducted within complex advocacy-knowledge-diplomacy networks. On the theoretical level, the article demonstrates that assemblage thinking provides a useful framework to trace the dynamic R2P’s existence constructed by heterogeneous entities and their relations. On the empirical level, it analyses how R2P emanated from the 2001 original report, how it gained relevance in the UN debates and how it endured the spectacular failures in Libya, Syria, and Myanmar. The resilience of R2P is not an inherent quality of the concept, it needs to be understood as a practical arrangement of its proponents.
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a doctrine motivated by good intentions. Yet an overriding concern with the successful consolidation of R2P as a norm, as well as the institutionalisation of R2P with academic and policy circles, has led to an excessive focus on the doctrine itself, rather than the atrocities meant to be motivating it. These limitations and shortcomings are examined and subsequently worked through in reference to the 2011 Libyan intervention. It is argued there should be less concern with norm development, and more explicit engagement with the responsibilities that come with supporting the doctrine.
Full-text available
This book explores, through the lens of the conflict in Syria, why international law and the United Nations have failed to halt conflict and massive human rights violations in many places around the world which has allowed tens of millions of people to be killed and hundreds of millions more to be harmed. The work presents a critical socio-legal analysis of the failures of international law and the United Nations (UN) to deal with mass atrocities and conflict. It argues that international law, in the way it is set up and operates, falls short in dealing with these issues in many respects. The argument is that international law is state-centred rather than victim-friendly, is, to some extent, outdated, is vague and often difficult to understand and, therefore, at times, hard to apply. While various accountability processes have come to the fore recently, processes do not exist to assist individual victims while the conflict occurs or the abuses are being perpetrated. The book focuses on the problems of international law and the UN and, in the context of the many enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions in Syria, why nothing has been done to deal with a rogue state that has regularly violated international law. It examines why the responsibility to protect (R2P) has not been applied and why it ought to be used, generally, and in Syria. It uses the Syrian context to evaluate the weaknesses of the system and why reform is needed. It examines the UN institutional mechanisms, the role they play and why a civilian protection system is needed. It examines what mechanism ought to be set up to deal with the possible one million people who have been disappeared and detained in Syria.
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