Introduction and Origin of Debate:

Humanitarian Intervention is an old doctrine that has roots in the philosophy of Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius. The doctrine comes from the jus war discourse of International law and tries to justify intervention by foreign actors on the territory of another state to halt the humanitarian crisis conducted by the state.

The foreign state conducts offensive military operations and tries to prevent human rights violations. Intervention on a humanitarian basis has been an issue in International affairs as states view it as a breach of state sovereignty.

Therefore, when Kofi Annan the Secretary-General raised concerns on the debate on humanitarian intervention and the issue of operation allied forces in Kosovo, the Canadian government made an International Commission to resolve the issue of intervention as a breach of state sovereignty.  The commission presented a groundbreaking report and a new concept of Responsibility to protect to resolve the issue and controversy related to the political and legal status of Humanitarian intervention.

The ICISS report proposals were accepted at the 2005 world summit by all governments and heads of state where the concept of sovereignty as control was shifted to sovereignty as responsibility.  R2P states that the primary responsibility to protect one’s individuals lies with the sovereign state. If the state fails to protect its individuals the responsibility shifts to the International community to prevent it initially, then react and rebuild the state apparatus to make the life of individuals easy. The debate on Humanitarian intervention started in the early 1990s under the auspices of the United Nations Organization, and later the concept was developed and adopted as a comprehensive framework in the 2005 Summit to deal with issues of controversy. There is a debate on the nature of the intervention, time, and although some scholars write in favor of the humanitarian framework and how it develops. In contrast, others still criticize R2P  and view the double standards adopted by major powers in considering some crises as humanitarian while ignoring others.

From HI to R2P: Old Wine in a new bottle or the Progressive Development of International Law?

The development of the Humanitarian Intervention Doctrine and Responsibility to Protect may not be a complete invention in International law. Still, it has elevated the status of International humanitarian law and International Human rights law. Hence, it is not an old wine in a new bottle but a progressive development of the International legal system. It has renovated the old concept of Humanitarian Intervention, given new perspectives to contradictory views of state sovereignty as control, and presented state sovereignty as responsibility. The author views R2p as a Holistic concept that has set some criteria for using military action.

The Report by the Canadian Commission set some standards to intervene like cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, reasonable prospects, and proper authority. All these were not part of humanitarian intervention, and it assumes the state’s primary responsibility to protect its population from harm.

Moreover, it entails that intervention can only be allowed if there is an irreparable loss to human beings in the territory of a state or ethnic cleansing committed by a state towards its people. The authority to declare the case of human rights violation as egregious and allow Intervention is decided under Article 24.1 of the UN Charter. The Security Council is responsible for militarily intervening or adopting strict measures to prevent the state from violating human rights.  The conceptual and normative evolution of R2P took place with the recognition of R2P at the 2005 world summit, a groundbreaking step in Humanitarian law. The ICISS report was adopted with specific changes. In the initial report, R2P holds applicable in case of fundamental human rights violation by a state. Still, in the 2005 summit, it was stated that the International community can intervene if a state authority commits genocide, war crime, or ethnic cleansing or fails to protect its population from such abuses.

Secondly, the cause to intervene is just in the ICISS report if severe or irreparable harm exists. Still, in the 2005 summit, it was adopted that Military Intervention would be only in specific cases of abuses like genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc. Five permanent members and the decision rejected the Criteria mentioned in the report was to take place on a case basis. To avoid the UNSC monopoly, the report suggested UNSC members adopt the code of conduct, but the summit abandoned any such behavior. Moreover, the appeal to UNGA and regional organizations in case of failure of the UNSC to respond to a crisis was replaced with collective action by UNSC. Out of the three core principles of R2P, prevent, react, and rebuild, the 2005 adoption of R2P ignored the rebuild notion, a vital element in the report. Hence, there have been differences in adoption by states at the 2005 world summit and what the initial report entails. Thus, the post-2005 R2P rests on an inherent way to prevent a humanitarian crisis, and the intrinsic responsibility lies with the state to protect its individuals.

The International community should help the UN to create early warning systems and encourage sovereign states to show commitment to R2P. Failure of the State to protect its population will ultimately result in a timely, decisive action by the International community through the Security Council, where the foreign states will intervene in the host state and halt its oppression through military action and force. Those who criticize Humanitarian intervention or military intervention based on R2P criticize the selective decisions of permanent members of SC and their interest-specific approach and highlight the double standards of the International community. The International community responded to the Libyan crisis. Still, the permanent members had different interests in Syria, where they failed to protect the lives of innocent people, and conditions in Syria are still not conducive for everyday living. Each power backs the side as per its interest, failing to recognize the pledge it committed in the domain of human rights.

In addition, the selective nature of Humanitarian Intervention is highlighted by the failure of the International community to respond to Human rights abuses in Palestine, Kashmir, Rwanda, Myanmar, Yemen, and many other states.

It entails that R2P is not universally adopted, and UNSC members hold the power to monopolize decision-making. Many see it as a neo-colonial imperialist attitude where the significant powers want to give legitimacy to their decisions and interests-based positions.

Moreover, it also challenges the negative effect of the intervention on state sovereignty as sovereignty employs that the foreign powers have no right to interfere in the internal matters of a state. But now scholars view sovereignty differently, and now it doesn’t mean unlimited power over the masses and a right to national authorities for the abusive use of their ability. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also sees R2P as an ally to state sovereignty as it helps it to protect the masses, which is the core responsibility of a nation’s state. And individuals have vested their authority to states to get the protection of their lives, assets, and property. The state is accountable before its masses if it fails to meet its sovereign duties. Hence, R2P strengthens sovereignty more than weakens it.

The responsibility to protect principle reflects challenges and opportunities essential to understanding the debate around Humanitarian Intervention.  Although intense crises occur worldwide, the practical steps taken to implement the code reflect a positive picture of the world. There is a gap between commitment by heads of state and the grim reality of human rights records worldwide. The risks of crimes towards human beings are more today due to the lack of unity among the UNSC members and their inability to respond equally to all crimes. The actors in any crisis or conflict disregard human lives and humanitarian laws. Innocent civilians are attacked, and no one is to question or stop them. The case of Syria best explains the sufferings of innocent civilians and the lack of International consensus to stop the actors from committing such human rights abuses. The UNSC’s role is more questionable, which protects political leaders from accountability. Along with these opposing sides, the author also highlights the positive side that the annual informal dialogue on UNGA shows some consensus by all members on core principles. The regional and global networks have been developed which highlight the issues of R2P crimes and help create a framework that supports the implementation of R2P and tries to prevent crimes against humanity.

Moreover, there is a need to sustain the progress made in these 25 years, and collective efforts by all members can eliminate the issues of contention. The Security Council members must consider human rights abuses seriously and decide on humanitarian grounds than self-interests. Continuous efforts to learn from past mistakes and revise the issues of contention will strengthen the R2P principle, and states will be more willing to work on humanitarian grounds. The strength of Humanitarian law depends on each state accepting responsibility for human protection on their shoulders. There is also a need for a domestic framework to hold human rights violators accountable before the law. The trained and International consensus on protecting human lives from irreparable losses will strengthen Humanitarian laws and create an atmosphere of peace and stability worldwide. Hence, more opportunities exist to improve the human rights landscape and work collectively for a world free from oppression, genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. The action taken by UNSC members must be on humanitarian grounds and not political ones.


The responsibility to protect and its adoption at the 2005 world summit is an achievement for the development of Human Rights law, and it is not just an old wine in a new bottle. Still, it’s a significant development and a comprehensive understanding of military intervention. Although certain loopholes exist in the structure and the monopoly it has created due to certain ambiguities, it cannot be rejected on that basis. With more research and focus on Human rights law, the structural provisions can be improved.

Moreover, it will become more efficient if the ICISS report is fully adopted without any changes as it is comprehensive and holistic and considers the details. Yet, those were overlooked and not adopted at the Adoption Summit 2005. Theoretically, these notions hold ground, yet there needs to be a more practical implementation based on human rights abuses, not self-interest. Taking action in some actions and failing to speak for certain humans and their sufferings raise fingers on the legitimacy of such developments and their contribution to humanitarian peace and stability.

The efficacy of the R2P doctrine will improve if it works on a universal basis and if the major powers in UNSC will sideline their self-interests and take collective action regarding human rights violations.

There is also a need to securitize the human abuses and breaches of human rights by Civil Society, and other actors must get into the human rights framework to exert pressure on the sovereign state if it fails to meet its responsibilities. The human rights framework must be so robust that a state cannot even think of using force against its people.

When the domestic institutions are strong along with the international framework, human rights law will only prevail and dominate. The International community’s responsible for acting without biases and holding those involved in egregious crimes against humanity accountable. Although there are limitations in adoption, it shows the commitment of the International community to work collectively for a world free of cruelty against humans.

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