US plane carrier and Chilean fighter jets (Source: Flickr, US Navy, Lt. j.g. David Babka)


Lecture Summary: Cambodia’s Strategic Role in R2P and Mass Atrocity Prevention (Part I)

| Jun 27, 2017    POLITIK     , , ,

On June 16, 2017, I attended a public lecture hosted by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), a non-governmental research think-tank, on the topic of “Cambodia’s Strategic Role in R2P and Mass Atrocity Prevention.”

Guest speaker Dr. Melissa Curley, senior lecturer in International Relations and director of the University of Queensland Rotary Peace Centre (Australia), shared her views on roles Cambodia can take to lead the discussion and implementation of this humanitarian doctrine in the context of ASEAN region, given its past experience in Khmer Rouge atrocity. The following is a summary of the lecture.

Responsibility to Protect (R2P) background

Dr. Curley started with providing background contexts. Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a humanitarian norm that “obligates individual states and then the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” The idea was first coined by South Sudanese diplomat and scholar Francis Deng in his 1996 Sovereignty as Responsibility book.

R2P: “obligates individual states and then the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”

First R2P

However, the R2P was popularized only later on when the Canadian government-sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) elaborated on the norm in a 2001 report. Since then, R2P gradually evolved through several versions. ICISS’s report was the first version of R2P. It laid out three elements.

  1. First, responsibility to prevent entails state to address root causes of internal conflicts and crisis that put civilian lives in danger.
  2. Second, responsibility to react comes as an intervention measure. When prevention fails, appropriate political, diplomatic, and, in the worse scenario, military intervention are to be considered.
  3. Third, responsibility to rebuild ensures post-atrocity reconstruction and capacity building.


Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Second R2P

R2P “version 2.0”, as Dr. Curley put it, emerged in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, a high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Head of states and governments unanimously endorsed the norm. The report gave authority to the United Nations to conduct appropriate humanitarian and military interventions as laid out under the UN charter, to prevent or halt mass atrocities.

Third R2P

In 2005, Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan’s successor, laid out the three-pillar approach in implementing R2P in his report during the 63rd session of the UNGA.

  1. Pillar one reiterates states’ responsibility to protect their own population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
  2. Pillar two gives the international community the responsibility to assist and encourage states to reach their obligation mentioned in pillar one.
  3. Pillar three underlines that if a state fails to protect its citizens from those four crimes, the international community must take immediate action in a timely and decisive manner through appropriate diplomatic and military means.

Fourth R2P

Dr. Curley described the 4th version of R2P as emerging after the Libya intervention case in 2011. Brazil took a leading step to polish the existing R2P by introducing a concept note titled “Responsibility while Protecting or RwP” to the UN Security Council. The note underscored the necessity to refrain from military intervention unless all diplomatic and political means are exhausted.

Link to Part II: Lecture Summary – Cambodia’s Strategic Role in R2P and Mass Atrocity Prevention (Part II)


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