UK Ambassador to the UN embraces “Responsibility to Protect”

Today, Michael Tatham, the UK Ambassador to the United Nations made a statement before the UN General Assembly saying that "[t]he United Kingdom is fully committed to implementing the Responsibility to Protect." Ambassador Tatham echoed R2P's themes of "prevention and response":

Firstly, it means that if our preventive action is effective, responsive action will be unnecessary. This is the situation we should all be striving for. . . . The United Kingdom believes that Responsibility to Protect should be a governing principle of all Member States' work across the conflict spectrum, as well as on human rights and development. Building good governance, the rule of law, inclusive and equal societies, and effective judicial and security sectors all contribute to building a preventive environment in which Responsibility to Protect crimes are less likely to take place. . . .

The second implication of the link between prevention and response is that if prevention fails, the international community must be able – and willing - to authorise action quickly and decisively if necessary. This does not and should not necessarily mean military action. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, collective response under pillar three includes a broad range of non-coercive and coercive measures that actors at national, regional, and international levels can use – from mediation to sanctions. . . .

"Responsibility to Protect" ("R2P") is the idea that a state has the duty to protect its citizens against human rights abuse and cannot hide behind the notion of "state sovereignty" when widespread abuses are occurring within its borders. Coupled with each state's duties, is also the broader duty of the international community of states to act if a state fails to fulfill its responsibility to protect its citizens. However, what "action" is necessary -- or even legal -- is a rather unclear issue.

Importantly, Ambassador Tatham says that such action "does not and should not necessarily mean military action." Indeed, after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many NATO allies surely do not have the stomach for further armed force responses. What is more, while R2P has received a decently warm reception, it is awkward fit -- if it fits at all -- with the United Nations Charter. Article 2(7) reflects the long-accepted idea of territorial integrity. The Security Council is given primary responsibility for making use-of-force decisions. However, one is probably well aware of the veto power the P5 states have. China and Russia have vetoed key resolutions on, for example, Syria, thus throwing a wrench into the cogs of the Security Council. How is one to reconcile R2P with the Charter?

If there one thing that is clear it is that R2P raises many important issues with no clear-cut answers. The UK's support of R2P is crucial to its international vitality given that the UK is a "P5" member of the Security Council. However, this is but one step on a much longer journey toward widespread acceptance. One need only but turn on the television to see that R2P, though of course not fully implemented, has not done much to assuage the widespread atrocities occurring in Syria. If there ever was a time to implement a solid plan for addressing the situation in Syria, it definitely is now.

The full statement can be read here: http://ukun.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=PressS&id=807108582.