Europe in the World

Europe's responsibility to protect: what role for the EU?

9 July 2007

Alex Ramsbotham, Research Fellow, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), introduced his organisation’s report on Safeguarding Civilians: delivering on the responsibility to protect in Africa, which considers how the international community should translate the commitment to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle made at the United Nations World Summit in 2005 into concrete action.

The IPPR report focuses on Africa, a region which has seen numerous war crimes and mass human rights abuses in the last decade, and where the international community has begun putting the R2P commitment into practice.

R2P has three aspects: preventing situations which threaten citizens’ welfare, reacting when they occur and building peace afterwards. This report focuses on the second: ‘how to react’, and Mr Ramsbotham said there were several ways to do this.

The first is through mediation, negotiation and diplomacy. While there are obvious tensions between achieving immediate results and negotiating long-term political solutions, this approach has proved very successful in, for example, Burundi. At the EU level, Brussels has a raft of diplomatic instruments it could use.

Another method is to use targeted or ‘smart’ sanctions, such as financial sanctions or asset freezes. These proved successful in ending the conflict in Sierra Leone, where the international community cut off the guns/diamonds trade. Mr Ramsbotham wondered whether the EU could use targeted sanctions against Sudan to bring about change in Darfur.

A third possible measure is using legal instruments, particularly given the existence of a new set of legal institutions such as the Africa Court of Justice, the UN Commissions of Enquiry and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

A fourth method is to use non-consensual military intervention (i.e. not agreed by the host government), which has a limited short-term effect, such as in Rwanda. Mr Ramsbotham suggested that the EU might consider deploying its battle groups in Africa for this purpose.

While all these measures could be successful in fulfilling the Responsibility to Protect, the key question is whether the key African, UN and EU institutions have the political will to carry them through.

R2P - using “quiet diplomacy”

Danièle Smadja, Director, Multilateral Relations and Human Rights, European Commission, described the 2005 R2P agreement as an impressive step achieved through “quiet diplomacy”.

She nevertheless agreed that there was a gap between politically endorsing the concept and actually implementing it, and wondered whether this was because it had not been clearly defined or whether it was an expression of the international community’s “bad conscience” in failing to prevent previous atrocities.

She welcomed the IPPR report’s emphasis on non-military approaches to R2P, and stressed the importance of preventive measures within this. She said the EU was already doing this through ‘soft’ diplomacy, political dialogue, trade policy, social and environment instruments, and cooperation with civil society.

At the same time, countries should also be given support to develop their own capacity to protect their civilians, said Ms Smadja. The EU does this in Africa, working to foster the rule of law, good governance and state capacity in crisis management, and strengthen regional (i.e. African) organisations.

However, she wondered whether there was enough political will to intervene when the R2P required it. She said the Commission had adopted a Communication on humanitarian aid, which included R2P, and she hoped that the Council and European Parliament would also make a stronger commitment.

She acknowledged that while much of EU attention was concentrated on solving the situation in Darfur, it should consider other countries currently “in the shadows” where R2P might be needed.

R2P - part of the trend in international law

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MEP, Acting Chairman of the Parliamentary Working Group on Relations with the UN, pointed out that not one day had passed since 1945 without a conflict somewhere, causing the death of millions. However, the nature of the conflicts has changed - they are no longer between states, but now within states in the form of civil war or acts of genocide.

The Responsibility to Protect follows the trend in international law, which stresses the link between international norms and the individual, as occurs at the ICC.

Many states, sensitive about their sovereignty after decolonisation, find it difficult to accept outside intervention in their affairs, although opinion polls show that most citizens agree with the concept of outside intervention when citizens’ lives are at risk. However, one should avoid too “mechanical” a definition of R2P, as decisions must be taken on a case-by-case basis.

R2P lies at the heart of European foreign policy, said Mr Graf Lambsdorff, even though the Council is reluctant to “adopt the language on R2P” because of possible ramifications - it might be difficult to put the policy into practice and individual Member States might have problems convincing a “sceptical public” about intervening in another country with which they have no ties.

The Union has been criticised for not doing enough, but the June EU summit agreement on the outline of a new treaty - which includes the creation of a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, with the powers originally given to the proposed EU Foreign Minister in the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty - will help it to implement R2P. The EU should also improve its infrastructure by, for example, developing its ‘battle groups’ to intervene when necessary.

It should also develop its R2P policy and practice through a mixture of a top-down and bottom-up approach, and build the political will to carry this through.

R2P - shows state sovereignty not a licence to kill

Gareth Evans, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group (ICG), said the 2005 UN summit decision on R2P was a belated recognition that state sovereignty “was not a licence to kill”.

However, the EU has “some distance to go” in shaping R2P. The European Parliament has accepted it, but the Commission does not have the power to move forward with formal programmes, said Mr Evans - although its ‘conflict prevention’ measures could be R2P by another name.

He laid out five challenges for the international community to turn the R2P principle into action. The first is to advance and consolidate the World Summit consensus, to avoid some countries back-tracking on the agreement.

The second is to draw up a clear definition of what R2P covers - in his view this should be genocide, ethnic cleansing, or situations capable of deteriorating into this, but not other human rights abuses or conflicts. It should not be applied too narrowly, such as only involving the use of non-consensual military intervention, nor too broadly, such as covering the need to protect humankind from AIDS.

It is also important to clarify the limits of military action and to draw up guidelines for when this would be appropriate. A further challenge is to build government capacity with a stronger “early warning system”, the right diplomatic tools, a repertoire of sanctions and the preparedness for military operations. Finally, political will must be strengthened to mobilise government or institutional capacity.

Mr Evans announced plans to set up a global centre for R2P, with a north-south core group of professionals to address the full range of issues, ‘energise’ the necessary strategies, recommend measures to build capacity worldwide and generate the political will.

Luis Morago, Head of EU Advocacy Office, Oxfam International, said that while many NGOs celebrated the UN agreement on R2P, people were still struggling to address the problem of how to turn a political commitment into action on the ground.

He warned against too much soul searching as “a drowning man needs a rope, not a sermon”. After establishing a clear definition, one should move quickly on to practical solutions. EU institutions are in a unique position to promote the R2P principle and give leadership, he said, provided there is a strong national constituency to support this.

In this programme


Programme Team

Head of Europe in the World programme and Senior Fellow

Giovanni Grevi

Senior Policy Analysts

Paul Ivan
Amanda Paul

Policy Analyst

Marco Giuli

Programme Assistant

Ivano di Carlo