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In 2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that world leaders at the United Nations World Summit had unanimously pledged, “to act if another Rwanda looms.” Specifically, they agreed that states have a responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. They also concluded that if a state is manifestly failing to protect its population, the international community has a responsibility to protect, including through the use of force should peaceful means prove ineffective. Their adoption of the responsibility to protect (R2P) offered a vision of a new international norm premised on state responsibility and nonindifference towards populations at risk of mass atrocities. This July, the General Assembly debated R2P for the first time since 2005. Member states signaled their enduring commitment to the goal, as well as some of the political and practical challenges that lie ahead. The successful debate marked another milestone in making this vision a reality even if R2P in many ways remains an emerging norm. The task ahead is to consolidate the achievements to date and instantiate the norm, thereby filling gaps in capacity, will and imagination and moving from rhetoric to saving lives. This paper examines the political evolution of R2P, and recommends strategies to ensure that practices and policies are put in place that will prevent and halt mass atrocity crimes.

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Discussion paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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