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“Responsibility To Protect,” Not Remotely New

Nothing’s better than when the UN shoehorns “new security and human rights norms” into Chapter VII resolutions:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

R2P isn’t really a new idea, and it’s not even particularly new to the United Nations. It just hasn’t been used this way before. In the past it’s been applied mainly to African contexts, as an argument for why humanitarian concerns justified intervention. It was more or less formalized by the UN in a 2006 resolution, and then Ban pushed it again in a 2009 report called Implementing the Responsibility to Protect. In 2009, we also saw the creation of the International Coalition For The Responsibility To Protect, a group of NGO’s brought together to extend and institutionalize R2P.

Some might be suspicious of the ICRtoP because its funding comes from organizations that provide backing for Israel-demonizing NGO’s. The coalition’s government donors include the governments of Sweden and Britain (NGO Monitor writeups here and here) and it gets part of its foundation money from the Oak Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (NGO Monitor shoutouts here and here). But that would be mere guilt by donor association. Here is a less ambiguous sample of ICRtoP thinking from 2009, during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza:

The recent escalation of violence in Gaza has raised serious questions about the use of the Responsibility to Protect to urge international action to protect civilians in the conflict. The Responsibility to Protect has been referred to, notably by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also others who claim that crimes committed in Gaza by Israeli forces have reached the threshold of R2P crimes.

This is part and parcel of the statements that the ICRtoP has been publishing since it was established in the immediate aftermath of Cast Lead. They published a petition absurdly insisting that “the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not… amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence.” They passed along Richard Falk’s “Israelis could be charged with war crimes” lawfare spin on the Goldstone Report. They reprinted other articles accusing Israelis of war crimes here and here and here and here and here. All of this was under the umbrella of “evaluating” whether R2P should be brought to bear against Israel’s self-defense campaigns.

The Responsibility To Protect, in other words, is an international norm that has been incubated with eyes on Israel at least since Cast Lead. Now it’s being used as the basis for UN resolutions backed by French warplanes and American Tomahawks. How did that get in there?