R2P and the human rights crisis in Syria

R2P Syria openGlobalRights guest editor David Petrasek introduces a debate about R2P and Syria.

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine – commonly known as R2P – was first proposed in 2001, in the wake of NATO’s controversial intervention in Kosovo. As eventually endorsed by UN Member States in 2005, R2P provides that the international community, acting through the UN Security Council, should act decisively – including as a last resort through the use of force – to halt mass atrocities.

The divided Council’s manifest failure to do so in Syria - even in the face of mass atrocity, 100,000 killed, and millions forced to flee – calls into question the relevance of the doctrine, even as it reignites support for a more robust R2P to support non-UN authorized military action.

R2P was intended to build consensus for international action, yet no such consensus is visible as regards Syria. What future for R2P? Will a unilateral US strike further undermine the doctrine, or, conversely, prove its importance in legitimizing action when the Security Council is divided? Can a new consensus be forged to support robust action to protect civilians, and if so on what terms? Translations: Español, العربية.

Guest editor of this debate

David Petrasek is the guest editor of the R2P in Syria debate

R2P – hindrance not a help in the Syrian crisis

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine has failed to build an international consensus for action to protect civilians in Syria. Worse, R2P’s implicit support for military action without UN authorization has contributed to the UN’s paralysis. Translations: Español, العربية

Latest responses:

The ethics of the responsibility to protect

Juan Francisco Lobo

The Responsibility to Protect after Libya – dead, dying or thriving?

Maggie Powers


R2P down but not out after Libya and Syria

The world’s failure to respond effectively to ongoing atrocities in Syria may mean R2P is down, but it’s not out. Even in Syria R2P offers a principled approach to a chemical weapons atrocity in the face of Security Council vetoes, and R2P can rebuild its support in the Security Council. Translations: Español ,العربية


Latest responses:

The sad fate of R2P: From Libya to the lost chance of Syria

Nassim Yaziji

The Central African Republic facing its R2P moment of truth

Philippe Bolopian

The principle of Responsibility to Protect in retrospect

David Maimela

Pity the people of Syria- and the principle of R2P

Lorena Ruano


The myth of military might in R2P choices

Discussions on R2P – and even the terms of the debate – tend to privilege the military option, though there is little empirical basis for thinking military strikes will best deter those harming civilians. Protection strategies need a deeper analysis of all potential levers of influence. Translations: Español, العربية

Latest responses:

US policy in the DRC is about interests, not allies

Laura Seay

Syria, the DRC and the 'Responsibility to Protect': the US double standard

Kambale Musavuli


R2P and Syria: imperialism with a human face

Opposing military intervention in Syria is not support for the brutal Assad regime. The BRICS countries can rely on strong legal and political reasons against such intervention; the Responsibility to Protect language is easily manipulated. Prudent internationalism is the better way – supporting negotiated solutions and eschewing military force to impose democracy. Translations: Español, العربية

Latest responses:

R2P - perspectives from India

SD Muni

Sovereignty - at what price?

Salil Tripathi


Thoughts on R2P from the Arab region

Opinions in the Arab region are divided regarding the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), although marked by a deep skepticism based in the perceived double standards of the great powers, especially the United States. Only a more democratic UN will ensure morality trumps politics in applying R2P. Translations: Español, العربية


The challenge and usefulness of R2P in the Syrian context

Syria shows the difficulty of translating Responsibility to Protect (R2P) into action, but we must if R2P is to be more than a fancy acronym. But any military intervention must be linked to dialogue towards a political solution, and if such action proceeds without UN authorization it risks further eroding support for R2P. Translations: Español, العربية


Articles and responses in date order:

The ethics of the responsibility to protect

Max Weber’s contrast between political action based on an ethics of responsibility or an ethics of conviction is instructive in trying to understand and explain the selective application of the R2P norm to conflicts in the Middle East. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in SyriaEspañol

The sad fate of R2P: From Libya to the lost chance of Syria

From Syria, optimistic accounts of the continued viability of the R2P norm look badly mistaken. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in Syria.

The Responsibility to Protect after Libya – dead, dying or thriving?

Controversy over the UN-authorized NATO intervention in Libya has not – contrary to what some expected – diminished support for R2P in the UN the Security Council, which increasingly invokes the concept. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in Syria.

The Central African Republic facing its R2P moment of truth

The world is responding, albeit slowly, to the human rights crisis in the Central African Republic, showing that – despite all the disputes over Libya and Syria – the ideas underpinning the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine are taking root. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in SyriaFrançais

US policy in the DRC is about interests, not allies

The US cares chiefly about stability in the DRC, rather than promoting Rwandan or Ugandan national interests. Musavuli’s analysis of America’s failure to apply the principles of R2P to the DRC does not take this into account, and understates recent US policy changes. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in Syria. Français

Syria, the DRC and the 'Responsibility to Protect': the US double standard

The Obama administration is concerned with the prevention of mass atrocities mainly when it is in alignment with US interests. However in the case of the deadliest conflict in the world where US allies are the aggressors, R2P is rarely if ever mentioned or invoked. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in SyriaFrançais

The principle of Responsibility to Protect in retrospect

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as applied in Libya promoted regime change and western interests. Resistance to a proposed intervention in Syria shows emerging powers and public opinion will not accept an ends justify the means logic, and the US ‘exceptionalism’ that is said to justify it. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in Syria.

The myth of military might in R2P choices

Discussions on R2P – and even the terms of the debate – tend to privilege the military option, though there is little empirical basis for thinking military strikes will best deter those harming civilians. Protection strategies need a deeper analysis of all potential levers of influence. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, R2P and the Human Rights Crisis in Syria.  Español,العربية