By Logan St. John-Smith

This year is the tenth anniversary of the 2005 World Summit, which brought together more than 170 Heads of State and Government at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York.

One of the most important developments to come out of that historic meeting is encapsulated in paragraphs 138-140 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, where the UN General Assembly endorsed what is known as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), and made a commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.  Should national authorities fail in their duties to protect their citizens, and peaceful means of achieving this goal be inadequate, collective military action may be authorized through Chapter VII of the UN Charter and the Security Council.

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine was first articulated in the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in December 2001 as the result of an initiative sponsored by the Government of Canada. To its supporters, R2P represents a significant normative development and a foundational step for greater protection for human rights globally. To its detractors, R2P represents a violation of the principles of state sovereignty and a license for war.

For both sides of this debate, the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya that ousted Muammar Gaddafi is a watershed moment. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya, leading to an eight month bombing campaign that culminated in the death of the Libyan leader. This explicit invocation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine in justifying military action is viewed today both as the vindication of the principles endorsed at the 2005 World Summit, and as the proof of its potential for abuse.

The Secretary General’s Sixth Report on the Responsibility to protect was released in August 2014. Produced annually since 2009, these reports are part of an informal dialogue at the UN General Assembly regarding the further implementation and entrenchment of the Responsibility to Protect. Noting that the doctrine is being tested by the unfolding crises in Syria and elsewhere, the Secretary General this year called on member states to use the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Summit to craft an ambitious vision for the future of the Responsibility to Protect.