One of the original co-authors of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect weighs in on the debate over whether or not the situation in Myanmar warrants the invocation of R2P. Gareth Evans:
My own initial concern, and it remains a serious one, with Kouchner’s invocation of the “responsibility to protect” was that, while wholly understandable as a political rallying cry – and God knows the world needs them in these situations – it had the potential to dramatically undercut international support for another great cause, to which he among others is also passionately committed, that of ending mass atrocity crimes once and for all.
The point about “the responsibility to protect” as it was originally conceived, and eventually embraced at the world summit – as I well know, as one of the original architects of the doctrine, having co-chaired the international commission that gave birth to it – is that it is not about human security generally, or protecting people from the impact of natural disasters, or the ravages of HIV-Aids or anything of that kind.
Rather, “R2P” is about protecting vulnerable populations from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in ways that we have all too miserably often failed to do in the past…But here’s the rub. If what the generals are now doing, in effectively denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death, can itself be characterised as a crime against humanity, then the responsibility to protect principle does indeed kick in. The Canadian-sponsored commission report that initiated the R2P concept in fact anticipated just this situation, in identifying one possible case for the application of military force as “overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes, where the state concerned is either unwilling or unable to cope, or call for assistance, and significant loss of life is occurring or threatened”.