The Responsibility to Protect, the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS)
This meeting centered on a discussion of the ICISS Report (available online) as it related to a possible NGO role in operationalizing the concept of the Responsibility to Protect, in particular by ensuring that governments meet their commitments to prevent serious humanitarian crises from developing, and to protect civilians when conflicts emerge.Internal conflict still remains the norm when it comes to serious violence - of the 56 armed conflicts occurring between 1990 and 2000 identified by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as major, in that they involved more than 1,000 battle-related deaths in one year, 53 of them were intra-state in character. The ICISS report was an effort to change the nomenclature and shift thinking from humanitarian intervention to the responsibility to protect. Sovereignty as responsibility implies that the state authorities are responsible for the functions of protecting the safety and lives of citizens and promotion of their welfare; that the national political authorities are responsible to their citizens internally, and to the international community through the UN. And thirdly, the state accountable for its acts. The speakers noted the report focuses on several responsibilities: the responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk; the responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention; and the responsibility to rebuild: to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert.
Rather than focusing on the changing norms or sovereignty and the question of responsibility to react and authority to respond, the discussion centered on how the report might be operationalized into practice. Several participants noted that governments were most concerned with the theoretical considerations of the report, in particular the section dealing with military response to egregious human rights violations. On the other hand NGOs and other groups were very interested in moving the report forward by mobilizing political will, both domestic and international, and turning early warning into early action.
Anita Sharma, 202-691-4083
- Report of the March 18, 2003 Civil Society Meeting on the Responsibility to Protect
- Final Report on Civil Society Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect