You are here

A decade of responsibility

Dec 30,2014 - Last updated at Dec 30,2014

Sovereignty is not the privilege of a state, but its responsibility. That was the decision arrived at by world leaders when they gathered a decade ago at the 2005 United Nations world summit.

In recognition of past failures to effectively and sufficiently respond to atrocious crimes, the leaders agreed to a new international norm that they dubbed “Responsibility to protect” (R2P).

To help prevent atrocities (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity), the assembled leaders decided that each state carries the primary responsibility for the protection of its population, and that all states have a responsibility to assist others to fulfill this obligation.

If a state fails to protect its population, the international community should use diplomatic measures — or even collective force — to prevent the perpetration of such serious crimes.

In the decade since its birth, R2P has been cited an impressive 26 times in UN decisions, but has demonstrated mixed overall results. While the international community responded effectively in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 and in Kenya in 2013, it has been slower to act in Syria, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Greater commitment to prevent atrocities is evidently required to fully realise R2P’s potential. But greater commitment is not equivalent to increased willingness to intervene militarily. Armed intervention is only a small part of R2P — and its last resort.

Atrocity prevention does not require powerful nations to display greater resolve to intervene, but that all states work to combat the root causes of the crimes so that intervention can be avoided.

Every country must bear the responsibility of safeguarding its own resilience to the development of atrocities so that the use of force does not become necessary.

Even states like Jordan that enjoy stability and safety must continue to scan the horizon for emerging problems.

Monitoring is vital, as atrocious crimes do not emerge out of thin air. Signs of potential atrocities appear long before the crimes actually occur, and if they are identified early enough, the crimes can be prevented.

The UN has created a checklist-like framework to serve as a tool to monitor the likelihood that a state will witness atrocious crimes. It highlights potential threats and vulnerabilities, and provides strategies for strengthening social resilience.

According to the framework, Jordan currently ranks as a relatively low-risk state. Yet, with the Islamic State threatening instability on its borders and refugee already creating conflicts inside them, several boxes on the UN list are starting to get checked off.

The UN Office for the Prevention of Genocide constantly analyses developments worldwide, but the limited capacity of the small UN office means that each country must actively monitor its own indicators so that risks can be accurately identified and addressed before they become problems.

This is an enormous task and governments cannot do it alone.

At a recent workshop on R2P in Amman, a representative of the UN Office for the Prevention of Genocide stressed the vital role civil society must play in helping governments to mitigate the risks of atrocities and detect early warning indicators.

Civil society is crucial for monitoring violations, facilitating mediation, providing training and awareness, supporting justice systems and even assisting in post-conflict development.

But for the civil society to effectively perform this role, the government must afford sufficient operational space for civil society organisations.

It must provide them with transparent information, extend them the freedom to access funding sources and permit them to openly express their findings.

Without these fundamental requirements, civil society cannot play a role in helping prevent the perpetuation of atrocious crimes.

With the New Year marking a decade since the birth of R2P, it is time to ensure that it functions the way it was intended.

We must all resolve to shoulder the responsibility necessary to prevent the worst crimes known to humanity from happening.


The writer is head of research at Identity Centre, Amman. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

6 users have voted, including you.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.