Responsibility to protect is a reinterpretation of the concept of sovereignty in the context of human rights. It is a concept originated after the end of cold war. The end of cold war has resulted into the rise of ethnic conflicts and civil wars. World has witnessed intra-state conflicts rather than inter-state conflicts. In these conflicts there has been violation of human rights at a mass scale. (genocide) e.g. Bosnia Herzegovina, Rwanda, Sri Lanka.
Civil wars created new challenges in international law e.g. Article 2 (7) of UN Charter prevents UN intervention in the domestic affairs of the states. It is to be noted that UN Charter is based on the Westphalian notion of sovereignty, according to which state is sovereign and no external institution can interfere in the domestic affairs of the state. It created dilemma for international community in context of the civil wars. Whether international community can intervene in domestic affairs for the sake of protection of human rights.
Hence a commission led by govt. of Canada came with the idea of responsibility to protect.
R2P redefines sovereignty. The conventional understanding of sovereignty is ‘power of the state’. R2P redefines sovereignty as ‘responsibility’ rather than power. It means sovereignty is not a power of the state on the people rather responsibility of the state to protect the rights of the people. State has been given right to use power not to kill the people but to protect them.
Prior to the nation states, entire humanity was one. Nation states are formed for the purpose of convenience. The primary responsibility of the protection of the rights of the people is of the state. e.g. The responsibility of the protection of the rights of the people living in Indian territory lies with Indian state.
In case state fails to fulfill its responsibility because of lack of capacity (Afghanistan at present) or state itself start violating the rights of its people (Myanmar – Rohingya crisis) in such situations it becomes the responsibility of international community to protect.
Responsibility to protect resolutions has been adopted by UN general assembly. India has also been signatory to the resolution. It permits international community to intervene in case of civil wars. However there are some guidelines 1) Force to be used only as a last option. 2) The use of force has to be proportionate.
The use of R2P has been controversial. The two most controversial examples are 1) Libya 2) Syria.
As per UNSC resolution 1973, R2P was authorized to NATO in case of the crisis in Libya because of Arab Spring. NATO was authorized only to enforce ‘no fly zone’ so that the forces of Gaddafi do no inflict excessive injuries on the civilians. However NATO did not adhere to the resolution, gone beyond the mandate, entered into an open war with forces of Gaddafi. NATO action led to the greater number of casualties. NATO’s actions have been condemned by Russia and China. They held that Responsibility to Protect has become a new discourse for western attempt at regime change rather than protection of human rights.
The experience of Libya has resulted into a situation where despite the repeated demands by the west, Russia and China did not sanction the permission for R2P in case of Syria. The action of both West and Russia and China has been responsible for the continuing violations of human rights and the lack of necessary action by United Nations.
Hence Brazil has proposed ‘Responsibility While Protection’. According to the resolution it is necessary to ensure the accountability of those who implement the resolution. In case they transgress the limits, they have to be penalized.
Above analysis show that human rights becomes a discourse to advance the geopolitical interest of the countries. This itself is a biggest factor behind multiple debates and weakness of human rights regime.