At the 2005 World Summit, all Heads of State and Government affirmed the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The responsibility to protect (commonly referred to as 'RtoP') rests upon three pillars of equal standing: the responsibility of each State to protect its populations (pillar I); the responsibility of the international community to assist States in protecting their populations (pillar II); and the responsibility of the international community to protect when a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations (pillar III). The adoption of the principle in 2005 constituted a solemn commitment, which included much expectation of a future free of these crimes.
Given the current range and intensity of crises around the world, many feel compelled to say that RtoP has failed. At the same time, important advances in the development of the principle and in the design of practical measures for its full implementation provide a more optimistic picture. Identifying next steps in the implementation of the responsibility to protect requires taking both factors into account.
It is unquestionable that despite the progress made, we remain far from the objective envisaged in 2005. Deeply worrying developments over the last few years threaten to widen the gap between the commitment expressed by Heads of State and Government and the daily reality confronted by populations around the world.
There is a range of situations today where populations are at risk of the RtoP crimes, or where such crimes are ongoing. These crises are taking place against a backdrop of retreating internationalism, diminishing respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, political disunity in key decision-making bodies such as the Security Council, and a level of defeatism about promoting ambitious agendas like protection.
We have been witnessing an alarming disregard for fundamental tenets of international law. In many of the armed conflicts that have ignited in recent years, parties to the conflict are consciously violating international humanitarian law; we are seeing widespread and flagrant attacks on protected civilian sites, such as hospitals and schools, as well as on protected persons, including humanitarian and health-care workers.
The besieging of civilian communities in Syria and the denial of humanitarian relief are particularly troubling, as they...