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Colonialism and the responsibility to protect
Published in Cambridge University Press
Pages: 305 - 322
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a relatively recent entrant in the burgeoning lexicon of contemporary international relations. It was only in 2001 that the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) articulated and developed the idea of R2P. The attempt wasmade consciously to depart from the doctrine of humanitarian intervention and its prior instantiations which had lent it a fairly dubious international reputation. As a follow-up to the 2001 report assembled by Gareth Evans, Mohamed Sahnoun and their team, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan in 2004 inaugurated a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. This latter effort culminated in the Report titled AMore SecureWorld:Our SharedResponsibility.1TheR2Pwas characterised here as an ‘emerging norm’. Subsequently, in 2005 at the UN General Assembly World Summit, the R2P was invoked again in the context of ‘helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out’. There are several important facets pertaining to the evolution of R2P and where we stand currently in relation to both the doctrine and its applicability. First, it is important not to equate R2P with ‘formal international law’. Second, the phraseology of an ‘emerging norm’ implies that it is ‘a norm situated in limbo halfway between existence and non-existence’. Third, in terms of the broader politics surrounding R2P, notwithstanding claims to impartial applicability, I argue that there is sufficient reason to be wary of the ‘fiction of neutrality’. Fourth, it is apparent that there exist unresolved grey areas both in doctrinal and operational terms as far as R2P is concerned and the attendant ‘ambiguity’ undermines its overall reputation. Finally, I concur with the view that R2P has not been able to circumvent in any fashion the more generic ‘paternalism’ of the powerful that has long characterised the dominant framings of contemporary international relations practice. It has been rather unsuccessful in assuaging deeper and well-founded historical suspicions, especially among decolonised states, about the motivations of major Western powers in the international system. Arguably, then, R2P represents ‘old wine in a new bottle’, cosmetic in its effort to remedy both the legacy and perils of humanitarian intervention. © Cambridge University Press 2015.
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