The responsibility to protect principle
: a comparative perspective on the last decade of implementation

  • Nancy Namisi Siboe

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The central task of this thesis is to question how the international community and particularly, the United Nations Security Council, has invoked or failed to invoke the principle of Responsibility to Protect and how this has elicited different reactions and contributions since its development in the year 2001 and subsequent adoption as Resolution 60/1 of 24th October 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly. Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has featured highly in public international law debates pertaining to mass killings, humanitarian intervention and protecting potential victims. The thesis critically assesses the application of the principle culminating in the suggestion of certain reforms aimed at ensuring that the principle does not die a natural death
The thesis identifies R2P in itself as an important principle that came into being specifically for protection of civilians during mass actions to avert gross human rights violations. The hypothesis that was tested is that both the international community and the United Nations Security Council (UN Security Council) play significant roles, which cannot be under emphasised especially in the context of the four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. However, R2P can only withstand the test of time if the international community works together in the central role of supporting maintenance and restoration of international peace and security as provided for under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
The thesis adopts a doctrinal framework supported by the neorealism theory of international relations in taking a position across a host of crucial reform areas, which include membership to and the States comprising the UN Security Council, enforceability of the principle as well as perception that R2P is a concept emanating from the developed countries in the global North, imposed on other States. The neorealism lens acts as a platform for building a good evaluation and understanding of the principle of R2P and its application. The thesis aims at opening a new door as to what is to be expected when humanity is faced with the mass atrocity crimes mentioned above, provide insights on the behavioral pattern of the international community and what ought to be to protect innocent civilians from the effects of such crimes. The author provides an analysis and assessment of principles, laws, policies, regulations and resolutions in the use of R2P in the selected cases of Libya, Ivory Coast, Syria and Yemen, the common denominator being that the cases arose as a result of active movements of the 2000s which saw dictatorial government facing resistance from civilians. Based on these findings, the author hypothesizes that the real purpose of R2P, which is protection of civilians against mass atrocities as laid down in theory has not materialized in practice especially in the last decade.
Among the main solutions advanced include reforms of the UN Security Council more particularly with regard to the composition of permanent members as well as use of veto power, Use of an early warning signal system on likely mass killings and a timely response to distress by the actors forming the international community. Legality and uniform enforceability of the principle is only achievable when all the players are operating on a level platform. The thesis therefore provides a critical analysis on the application of R2P in the hope of averting mass atrocities.
Date of AwardFeb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorLeila Choukroune (Supervisor), Munir Maniruzzaman (Supervisor) & Sarah Atkins (Supervisor)

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