Acting Against Atrocities: A Strategy for Supporters of the Responsibility to Protect
Discussion Paper #09-03, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
The advent of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) signals the international community’s commitment to ending genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, and serves as a declaration that state sovereignty will no longer be a shield behind which perpetrators of mass atrocities can hide.
Despite achieving consensus for RtoP’s vision among UN member states in 2005, efforts to move RtoP from words to action have stalled. The ability of RtoP supporters to regain momentum has been complicated by their own diverging views on RtoP. Lack of coordination has caused them to struggle in arriving at a common understanding of the concept and has hampered efforts to develop a clear vision for its implementation.
As supporters’ attention has been focused almost exclusively on an upcoming RtoP debate in the UN General Assembly, there is a void in strategic thinking on the long-term evolution of RtoP. With this consideration in mind, the purpose of this report is threefold: (1) to uncover the areas in which conceptual ambiguity surrounding RtoP persists and recommend ways to better coordinate supporters’ positions and messaging; (2) to determine how RtoP supporters can better mainstream RtoP into their own national-level institutions and processes; and (3) to propose a strategy for sustaining the political will to act on RtoP by moving dialogue and action to forums outside the UN.
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