HI-03-01 From the Right to Intervene to the Responsibility to Protect

This is lesson five of six on humanitarian intervention.

Here are links to the other five:

Ethics & Politcs of Humanitarian Intervention:
Lesson 01-01, Lesson 01-02, Lesson 01-03

Intervention: From Theories to Cases:
Lesson 02-01

The Evolving Norm of Humanitarian Intervention:

Lesson 03-01, Lesson 03-03


In the 1990s the international community's failures to intervene in the mass killing of Rwandan Tutsis and to agree on an international response to the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians (with NATO stepping into the breach) there emerged a strong motivation to find a way to safeguard human security that would draw the support of the international community as a whole.

The challenge was in how to reconcile the notions of human rights and sovereign equality, both important pillars of international society. Building on the notion of "sovereignty as responsibility," this challenge was met by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in the form of a new aspirant norm of international society, "the responsibility to protect."

Under this new principle, sovereignty may neither act to shield perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes within a state from outside intervention, nor may it be taken up to justify failures to intervene in the name of human rights on the part of other members of international society.

In September 2005 world leaders meeting at the UN World Summit agreed that when states "manifestly fail" to protect their populations from war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, the international community shares a collective responsibility to respond.

But with ongoing inaction and non-coordination over the crises in Darfur, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other flashpoints around the globe, can the responsibility to protect gather sufficient support, strength—can it even survive—so that we no longer have to witness or suffer "Rwandas" or "Kosovos"?


Prepare lesson and discussion questions on humanitarian intervention based on the readings.


A. In-Class Activities
Lecture which connects the cases discussed in weeks 4–6 to the idea of humanitarian intervention as a changing practice in international society. The challenges of Somalia, Rwanda, and Kosovo are things we can work to meet through ethical and political debate.

Do: Discuss (40 minutes)
Discuss lecture and readings.

B. Assignments to Be Completed in Advance (0-2+ hours)
Alex J. Bellamy, "Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq," Ethics & International Affairs 19, no. 2 (2005)

Alex J. Bellamy, "Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit," Ethics & International Affairs 20, no. 2 (2006)

Joelle Tanguy, "Redefining Sovereignty and Intervention," Ethics & International Affairs 17, no. 1 (2003)

Ethics & International Affairs Interview Series: Alex J. Bellamy on the Responsibility to Protect (February 26, 2009)


A. Are human rights compatible with sovereign equality? Does the notion of the responsibility to protect solve or underestimate the challenge of reconciling these core principles of international society?

B. Should proponents of the responsibility to protect be satisfied with the outcome of the 2005 World Summit?

C. Does the failure of the international community to intervene in Darfur indicate a failure of the responsibility to protect?

D. What is the relationship between the responsibility to protect and the use of military force? Does the one have to lead to the other?

E. Is it a good thing that the notion of "sovereignty as responsibility," as embedded in the responsibility to protect, relies centrally on the politics of the UN Security Council? Has the responsibility to protect actually enhanced the real-world capacity of international actors to meaningfully challenge state sovereignty?

F. How important are ideas, words, and rhetoric in world politics?


Kofi Annan, In Larger Freedom: Toward Development, Security, and Human Rights for All (United Nations 2005)

Louise Arbour, "The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice," Review of International Studies 34 (2008)

Alex J. Bellamy, Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities (Cambridge: Polity, 2009)

Gareth Evans, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press 2008)

Global Responsibility to Protect

High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility (United Nations 2004)

Ban Ki-moon, "Implementing the Responsibility to Protect," UN doc. A/63/677 (January 12, 2009) [PDF]

Responsibility to Protect, David Davies Memorial Institute of International Studies

Responsibility to Protect: Engaging Civil Society

Alex de Waal, "Darfur and The Responsibility to Protect," International Affairs 83 (2007)

Thomas Weiss, "New Thinking: The Responsibility to Protect," chapter 4 of Humanitarian Intervention (Cambridge: Polity 2007)

Jennifer Welsh, "Implementing the 'Responsibility to Protect,'" Policy Brief No. 1, Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict (2009) [PDF]

Jennifer Welsh, "The Responsibility to Protect: Securing the Individual in International Society," in Security and Human Rights, ed. Benjamin J. Goold and Liora Lazarus (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2007)