Responsibility to Protect and the UN Security Council: An Outdated Preventive Doctrine

Almost five years have passed and the United Nations has estimated that more than 250,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began, which includes 500 children, according to UNICEF.  United Nations Security Council, the guardian of world peace and stability, has not only failed to prevent the war crime, genocide, and crimes against humanity– it has proved that the mandates and policies of the UN Security Council are not relevant to implement in war-prone areas. In addition, it has failed its responsibility to protect civilians from the mass atrocities, which is a commitment of the organization.

What is the responsibility to protect?

In 1994, during the Rwandan genocide and Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, the leaders of the world came to the realization that protecting civilians is a global responsibility. This is how the concept of the responsibility to protect emerged. At the UN World Summit in 2005, “responsibility to protect” was unanimously adopted to prevent the crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. More than 150 heads-of-state and governments approved the World Summit Outcome document, paragraph 139 of which declared the primacy of the Security Council in situations where a state was clearly unwilling or unable to uphold its sovereign responsibilities to its citizens. The paragraph 139 states:

In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including chapter VIII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.


Intervention of the Security Council in Libya gave “Right to Protect” a bad name:

During Libyan political upheaval, the Security Council specifically referenced Right to Protect while imposing coercive military measures against a sovereign state that was murdering its own people. The eventual fall of the government of Muammar Qaddafi  and regime change in Libya ignited debate in international community since external interference clearly pushed the country to a civil war.

As a result, in March 2011, when the first phase of the Syrian crisis emerged in the same form of “Arab spring”, the UN Security Council members appeared to broadly accept the argument that external interference would push Syria towards a sectarian civil war which showed the lack of judgement and lack of foresightedness of the council.

In 2012, when the Syrian crisis intensified due to mass atrocities toward civilians by both government and opposition militias, still the “external interference” proposal was vetoed. The cruelty and war crimes still prevailed, merely because China and Russia, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, vetoed the proposal even though thirteen other members voted for the proposal. Unfortunately, the inaction of UN only encouraged the Syrian government to continue the war crime and to elevate the level of cruelty which clearly increased the death toll in Syria. The death toll in Syria increased from almost 1,000/month to 5,000/per month in 2012. An alarming death rate of 60,000 was reached in November 2012, whereas in February the rate was 5,000. Interestingly enough, China and Russia still vetoed the “external interference” proposal in July 2012, which clearly has direct influence on the soaring death number. It is another time the responsibility to protect not only failed to implement its preventive doctrine, but also its inaction gave licence to kill.