The Responsibility to Protect

The so-called “right of humanitarian intervention” has been one of the most controversial foreign policy issues of the last decade – both when intervention has happened, as in Kosovo, and when it has failed to happen, as in Rwanda. 

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his report to the 2000 Millennium Assembly, challenged the international community to try to forge consensus, once and for all, around the basic questions of principle and process involved: when should intervention occur, under whose authority, and how.  The independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty was established by the Canadian Government in September 2000 to respond to that challenge.  The Simons Foundation was the private Canadian funder of the Commission.

Its report’s central theme is the idea of “The Responsibility to Protect.”  Sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe – from mass murder and rape, from starvation – but when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states.