What happened to R2P? by Lea Ledwon, Germany/ Israel


Is there such a thing as the Responsibility to Protect? And if so, who is responsible for protecting whom? Clearly, there is no consensus on this issue. For some, state sovereignty is absolutely sacred, for others the protection of civilians dying because their regime cannot protect them or is the perpetrator itself, can override this sanctity. What is it that we, yes we humans, are supposed to do when internal conflicts arise?

The Syrian civil war has caused more than 100,000 casualties and thus far, nothing has been done by the United Nations, the international community in general and the regional Arab powers, which is why a great number of people once again address the inability of action against manslaughter.

The UN established R2P in 2005 after the Rwandan genocide had shocked the world and proved the international community’s insufficient organization against crimes against humanity. We cannot ignore the fact that we live in an intertwined world, complete state sovereignty doesn’t exist anymore. With the advent of human rights, we also received duties and responsibilities. In cases of severe violations of these rights, those who are capable of doing so must act and protect.

The people of Syria find themselves in great danger. Every single day, around 5000 civilians leave their country. Many of them are children who no longer have a home. Staying means suffering from chemical weapon attacks, which cause absolutely inhumane suffering. And what about those “conventional weapons”, we have labeled as legal? Some of them kill hundreds if not thousands of people at once. Delivering conventional weapons to other countries, indirectly entering their sovereign territory is broadly accepted by the international community but what about dealing with the consequences? We are good at arming but bad at disarming.

Protecting doesn’t necessarily mean military intervention but it can, if other possibilities have been exhausted and there is no reason to believe that a non-military intervention will solve the conflict. Protecting can be accepting endangered civilians to take refuge in one’s country. Protection means making a serious diplomatic effort to ease the tension. For a person who generally has an aversion to war this is difficult to say. But I will do it anyway: I believe that in the case of Syria a multinational force has to use limited military means to stop the ongoing manslaughter. The international community started intervening a long time ago, by arming the governments and its opponents and thus taking sides, now it will also need to bear the consequences.

Once again the United Nations proves unable to react. In theory the Responsibility to Protect paradigm might be a reasonable solution to severe crimes against humanity, but it remains solely a norm, a suggestion. In practice there is no possibility for implementation because of the great divisions between international actors, who all have their own personal interests in the conflict. Therefore, in specific cases, there is no other possibility than the creation of a multinational force which efficiently and proportionally brings an end to the suffering. In the case of Syria, this will likely have to involve the United States due to their military strength, even though making the decision to enter another country in the Middle East needs to be made very cautiously, especially after the failures of Afghanistan and Iraq. Syria is different and so should be its mandate. At the same time, the intervention should not be American only, but rather a combined one including other Arab countries. We need to overcome the divisions between West and East, North and South. When human rights violations are great, we need to unite in order to fulfill our duties. And countries who are not willing to intervene militarily, should find other ways to support aggrieved peoples. European state officials express their deep sorrow about Syria but fail to take action. The borders remain closed for Syrian refugees who have no other choice than to leave the country. Words of condolences won’t help; it is time to act, it is time to protect!

Lea Ledwon,

YaLa Young Leaders

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