Responsibility to Protect: Clarifying the Nature of State Obligations

Olena Sihvo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The concept of R2P has been characterized as the most dramatic and rapid normative development of our time, a powerful norm of international politics that represents an unprecedented effort to reconceptualise state sovereignty as a responsibility of state towards its people. The clear political appeal to the international community to finally reach a consensus as regards the most abhorrent human rights scourges that transgresses the R2P concept requires some clarity as to the legal nature of this new doctrine and particularly legal obligations it imposes upon states towards their populations. This article will seek to demystify the nature and content of states’ obligations triggered by R2P under the ‘Three Pillar System’ rubric suggested by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his 2009 report to the General Assembly. The Secretary-General suggested that R2P rests on three concurrent and mutually-reinforcing responsibilities, or ‘pillars’: 1) the enduring responsibility of a state to protect individuals under its jurisdiction from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; 2) the international community’s residual responsibility to assist states to fulfil their R2P; 3) the international responsibility to take timely and decisive action, in accordance with the UN Charter, in cases where the host state has manifestly failed to protect its population from the four crimes. In concluding, the article argues that the concept of R2P as it currently stands does not add new obligations for states in the face of humanitarian emergencies but rather clarifies and reinforces duties that states already undertook under international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)255–291
JournalHelsinki Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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