Under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, the United Nations General Assembly addresses the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. Adopted at the World Summit in 2005, R2P expands the definition of such crimes against humanity to include those committed by a state within its own borders.

While some countries have expressed concern that the doctrine interferes with state sovereignty, secretary general Ban Ki Moon, a forceful proponent of the measure, has argued that sovereignty comes with the responsibility of protecting one’s people. He stresses the difference between R2P and “humanitarian intervention” — a concept that has been historically abused in a handful of situations. Instead, R2P is grounded in an effort to encourage sovereign states to prevent crimes against their citizens, hold them accountable if they fail, and put pressure on the international community to identify and punish these crimes.

Despite the laudable efforts of Ban and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, the UN has been criticized for its lack of interference in certain crisis situations. This, in turn, points to a key weakness of the R2P doctrine, which places decision-making power in the hands of the Security Council and the disparate foreign policy agendas of its five permanent members (P5).

As a result, implementing R2P remains a challenge that can only be met by the energizing force of global public opinion. Only an international outcry can compel the P5 to act responsibly rather than selfishly, and Ban Ki Moon has the international clout to galvanize such a movement.

The United States, too, can play a significant role by accepting and legitimizing the International Criminal Court. The first step would be to revisit the Rome Treaty, which it “unsigned” in 2002. Unless the United States learns to respect the United Nations, its leaders, and its international treaties, it cannot expect the rest of the world to do the same.

You can read Williams’ full article here.

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