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The Responsibility to Protect

IRRI works to promote the principle of the Responsibly to Protect (R2P) as a way of enhancing the response to the crisis in Darfur and to other crises in Africa.

R2P is an emerging norm of international law that provides that although states have the primary responsibility to protect their citizens from crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes, when a state is unable or willing to exercise that responsibility, the international community is obliged to assist.

The principle was first articulated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, appointed by the government of Canada further to calls by the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Commission’s 2001 report challenged traditional thinking about ‘humanitarian intervention,’ proposing a re-conceptualisation of the notion of sovereignty from control to responsibility.

R2P expresses a commitment to action along a continuum. The principle embraces three distinct, but related, responsibilities: the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react and the responsibility to rebuild. Responsibility for these three elements remains with the state in which the conflict or crisis is occurring and shifts to states acting collectively through the international community only if that state fails in its responsibility, whether as a result of incapacity or unwillingness.


20 July 2009: Civil society briefing hosted by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, New York

"Responsibility to Protect: A Dialogue with Civil Society in Advance of the UN General Assembly debate"

Dismas Nkunda, Co-Chair of the Darfur Consortium and Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, participated in the panel discussion.

The Responsibility to Protect addresses the responsibility of states and the international community to prevent, protect and halt genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The GA debate on the Responsibility to Protect is the first time governments came together to discuss how to take the responsibility to Protect forward since its historic endorsement in 2005.


Publications of the International Refugee Rights Initiative related to R2P:

UN Security Council Open Debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Civil Society Calls for Member States to Protect Populations from Atrocity Crimes by Preventing the Means to Commit Them, 6 May 2015

Open Letter to the UN Security Council on the Situation in Kyrgyzstan, 23 June 2010.

"Continued Consideration of RtoP Proves a Success at UNGA Debate," Refugee Rights News, Volume 5, Issue 5, November 2009.

African civil society organizations send open letter to governments in advance of the General Assembly debate on the Responsibility to Protect, July 2009.

"Some Reflections on the Legal and Political Mechanisms Bolstering the Responsibility to Protect: the African Union and the Great Lakes, Eastern, Southern and Horn of Africa Sub-Regional Arrangements," October 2008.

"Kampala Conference on R2P in East and the Horn of Africa," Refugee Rights News, Volume 4, Issue 3, May 2008.

"Civil society issues communique to COMESA, EAC, SADC Tripartite Summit," October 21, 2008.