The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine is declared by the United Nations Security Council as a new approach to prevent the atrocity crimes globally and to protect the civilians’ rights. The doctrine was developed in the 2000s in response to the humanitarian crises of the 1990s in Rwanda and Kosovo. Although the R2P doctrine is discussed as an effective alternative to the previously followed ‘humanitarian intervention’, its role in addressing the crisis in Syria is still debatable. The reason is that the UN Security Council failed to respond to the Syrian crisis immediately, as it was in case of Libya. Moreover, the absence of any agreement in the international community regarding the discussion of legal approaches to address the Syrian conflict provoked many questions on the ways to apply the R2P doctrine to the case of Syria. This research paper aims to answer the question on possibilities of adopting the R2P doctrine in order to address the conflict in Syria. Thus, the purpose of the research is to find out how the R2P could be applied to the Syrian crisis, to identify obstacles of using the doctrine in Syria, and to determine prospects associated with the further development of the R2P concept. This purpose is achieved with the help of analysing the Syrian situation in the context of the R2P concepts and in contrast to the Libyan case.
The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) is declared by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly as a new effective approach that was proposed in the 2000s in order to prevent the progress of mass atrocities globally. Referring to this strategy that includes a certain series of actions to take, it is possible to prevent and cease ethnic cleansing and genocides as well as mass killings of the civilians because these violations are often a result of internal conflicts. A series of humanitarian crises in the 1990s made the international community reconsider the idea of ‘humanitarian intervention’ because this concept became associated with the active use of military forces, as it was in Kosovo; or in contrast, this approach became associated with the absence of any adequate humanitarian support, as it was in Rwanda. Therefore, in 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty presented the report in which the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was clearly defined and described. Later, the conflict of 2003 in Darfur demonstrated that the proposed R2P concept and approaches to determining the responsibility of the international community to protect the rights of civilians should be adopted because of their appropriateness to address the problem of violating the human rights. As a result, the doctrine of the R2P was adopted in 2005. Lewandowski states in his work that “responsibility to protect was developed to reach two goals: to prevent and stop core human rights violations and to establish a platform for such reaction in accordance with the principles of international law”.
However, the real test for the new doctrine was in 2011, when the international community could observe how the principles of the R2P were applied or not in relation to the crises in Libya and Syria. The military intervention in Libya provoked many questions in experts and public, but such researchers as Bellamy, Garwood-Gowers, and Payandeh concluded that the realisation of the principle of R2P was rather effective in the case of Libya. On the contrary, the strategy of non-intervention was selected in case of Syria. This approach also provoked a lot of questions for the further debates. The reason is that many proponents of the R2P discuss the doctrine as the alternative to the previous radical humanitarian intervention and see many approaches in resolving the Syrian conflict with references to the R2P. Furthermore, the supporters of more extreme measures also discuss the R2P as the effective tool to promote the intervention and achieve the stability for the society with the help of the force, as it is stated in the article by Williams, Ulbrick and Worboys. From this perspective, the problem is in the fact that the responses of the international community as well as different organisations to the Syrian crisis were extremely diverse. When the humanitarian intervention was actively realised in Libya, the possibilities to follow this pattern in Syria were only “tested”, as it is mentioned by such researchers as Nanda and Zifcak in their works.
As a result, now it is important to focus on the analysis of the Syrian situation in the context of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ and with references to the international criminal justice in order to state how the proposed doctrine can deal with the discussed crisis and how effective its measures can be to regulate the situations similar to that one that was observed in Syria in 2011. On the one hand, the situation in Syria demonstrated that the R2P approach cannot be equally implemented in different contexts, and the specific focus on the concrete situation is the key to its resolution. On the other hand, the international community’s military failure in Syria allows focusing on the detailed discussion of possible obstacles that are associated with the practical implementation of the doctrine in the critical contexts. As a consequence, the problem of the choice of effective measures to regulate the Syrian conflict remains unresolved. In this context, it is important to answer the question of whether the international community could appropriately deal with the conflict in Syria while adopting the R2P doctrine. Furthermore, it is also important to find the answer to the question on how to implement the principles of the doctrine in order to achieve the success and address the conflict while directly protecting the civilians’ rights.
The purpose of this qualitative research on the effectiveness of implementing the R2P approach in the context of the Syrian situation is to find out how the R2P could be applied to the Syrian crisis, to determine paths to facilitate the R2P implementation, and to identify possible obstacles and prospects that are associated with the R2P development in the future. Therefore, the paper starts with addressing the shift observed in the international community’s debates from the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’ to the notion of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ and continues with discussing the evolution of the R2P concept during the 2000s-2010s. The paper also provides the information on the causes that could lead to the development of the Syrian conflict in the context of Arab Spring. The final part of the paper aims to determine the principles of the international criminal justice and obstacles for implementing the R2P in Syria in contrast to the experience in Libya and to analyse the responses to the Syrian crisis in the context of the further perspectives for the facilitation of the R2P. To address the identified purpose, the research is based on the review of primary and secondary sources on the problem of the application of the R2P to the situation in Syria.
Genocide and other mass atrocities were always discussed by the international society as the problems that needed to be resolved by the means of the whole global community in order to prevent the rise of these problems again in the future. Therefore, the idea of the humanitarian intervention developed as a result of the authorities’ attempts to propose the most effective approaches in order to address a range of problems that could be discussed in the context of the international law. In spite of the fact that the concept of the humanitarian intervention satisfied the needs of the authorities because it pointed at the possibilities to use forces in order to address the conflict, there were several triggers in the 1990s that made the international community reconsider the approach to the proposed solution.
The humanitarian crises and tragedies in Rwanda in 1994 and in Kosovo in 1999 made the international community and authorities discuss the strategies to effectively respond to the observed violations of human rights. The sovereignty of states to resolve their domestic issues and the rights of the international community to intervene in the process became the matter for debates during the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s. As a result, the opinions of the experts divided because the authorities supported rather different approaches to resolving the problematic situations in the international law context. Therefore, the idea of using the international intervention into the country for the humanitarian purposes became discussed as a reasonable action to prevent humanitarian catastrophes by one group of experts and as a controversial approach leading to many negative consequences for civilians by the other group of experts. It was necessary to propose the solution that could satisfy the international community and that could contribute to completing the purpose of the authorities’ efforts in the context of humanitarian interventions.
Referring to the provided background, it is important to state that the purpose of this chapter is to state the definition of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ concept that was actively used in the 1990s and to present the definition of the ‘responsibility to protect’ concept that became actively used in the 2000s in order to replace the idea of the humanitarian intervention. In addition, this chapter provides the discussion of different types of responsibilities that were identified by the authors of the doctrine.
The Notion of Humanitarian Intervention
The debates on the notion of the humanitarian intervention and its practical application to different world contexts were the results of two humanitarian failures in Rwanda and Kosovo. Thus, the lack of the adequate response to the situation in Rwanda in 1994 provoked more debates on the reasonability and legitimacy of using the humanitarian intervention. According to Welsh, the international organisations focused on developing the idea of the humanitarian intervention in order to “protect civilians in the future”. However, no real actions were taken in order to address the problems of the civilians and to stop the genocide with the help of adequate and timely measures. Furthermore, the need for discussing the idea of intervention was accentuated later, when “the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, designed to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, occurred without Security Council authorisation”. As a result of these crises, the international community’s uncertainty about the legitimacy of humanitarian interventions increased significantly, and the debates led to developing the idea of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) instead of the notion of the humanitarian intervention. To understand the premises for such shift in the international law, it is necessary to discuss the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in detail.
It is important to start with the idea that the notion of ‘intervention’ is the basis for the R2P concept, and the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’ evolved in order to address the changes in the public needs. Therefore, more attention should be paid to discussing the notion of the humanitarian intervention in detail. Following the definition proposed by Davis, it is possible to state that the humanitarian intervention is “the use of force by a state (or group of states) in another sovereign state’s territory to protect the host state’s citizens from gross human rights abuses, mass atrocities, crimes against humanity, or genocide”. From this point, the notion of humanitarian intervention differs significantly from the notion of the humanitarian assistance that is usually proposed by organisations similar to the Red Cross. Thus, being based on the necessity of using military forces to stabilise the situation in a state, the notion of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ includes the coercive element that provokes a lot of debates among the international community because the authorities’ opinions on the problem are different. The authorities can be discussed as divided in proponents of diplomatic options in order to state the idea of humanitarianism and promote the avoidance of using the arms and in supporters of using active military actions in cases when certain states cannot address the needs of their citizens appropriately.
In spite of the fact that the notion of the humanitarian intervention was discussed in the early 1990s as the unique measure to use because of its direct opposition to the idea of promoting the state’s sovereignty, this notion developed, and finally, the necessity of human interventions was adopted by the majority of the international community. The development of the notion also led to determining the conditions that needed to be followed to guarantee the effectiveness of the intervention. Thus, Weiss states that the “humanitarian intervention should be subject to four precautionary conditions: right intention, last resort, proportional means, and reasonable prospects of success”. In this context, the right intention means the clearly determined purpose for the intervention. The condition of the last resort means the absence of any other available means to regulate the problem. In addition, the condition of proportional means can be discussed as determined to regulate the actual use of military forces to resolve the problem and avoid mass victims. Finally, reasonable prospects of success are important in order to legitimise the intervention because it needs to lead to the successful resolution of the problem. From this point, the focus on the humanitarian intervention means the necessity of reacting to “all crises consistently”.
In addition to opposing to the military nature of the humanitarian intervention, the critics of the approach also refer to a range of unexpected results of the intervention. Thus, Nzelibe notes that the condition of reasonable prospects of success is often not addressed in reality. The reason is that “humanitarian interventions both influence and are influenced by the decisions of the victims and perpetrators of atrocities”. As a result, the actual intervention can lead to strengthening the parties that can cause more atrocities. Furthermore, the problem is also in interpreting the notion because the military actions that are usually discussed as the ‘humanitarian intervention’ cannot address the idea of ‘humanitarian’ directly. According to Pattison, if the intervention is military in its nature, it cannot be discussed as ‘humanitarian’ with references to the traditional understanding of this idea. Discussing the adopted notion of the humanitarian intervention, Pattison determines several specific features that help to distinguish this course of actions from the other anti-crisis measures used in the international law.
Thus, the humanitarian intervention, as it is seen by the international community and authorities, is military in contrast to other diplomatic or economic measures. Furthermore, this type of intervention needs to be forcible when the actual assistance of such organisations as the Red Cross is often non-forcible. In addition, this intervention is always justifiable, it has the specific purpose, and it refers to the underlying reasons. Only when these conditions are met, it is possible to speak about the humanitarian intervention. However, the problem is in the fact that even if the criteria determined by Pattison are met, the authorities often cannot guarantee that the proposed military actions can lead to the positive consequences and fewer victims in spite of the fact that this condition is the priority.
History and Definition of the Responsibility to Protect
In 2000, the Government of Canada established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), and one of the tasks was the necessity to address the problem associated with the NATO bombings in Kosovo in 1999. The main topic of the consultation and discussion sessions of the ICISS was the development of the idea of the international community’s responsibility to protect the civilians suffering from the threat of violations and possible ethnic cleansing. The members of the ICISS had the experience in different areas of knowledge and discussed different approaches to resolving identified conflicts with the help of diplomatic and military means. In December 2001, the ICISS proposed the report presenting the results and findings on the consultation and discussion sessions.
The ICISS Report included the detailed discussion and definition of the idea of ‘Responsibility to Protect’. R2P was formulated as the extension of the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’ that was assessed by the ICISS as ineffective with references to the crises in Rwanda and Kosovo. As a result, the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was defined as a tool to address mass atrocities and resolve conflicts in cases when the state cannot protect the rights of its citizens and when the international community needs to participate in protecting the humans’ interests.
In the Report, the ICISS formulated three measures important to start the discussion of the necessity of intervening. These conditions are “early warning”, “preventive toolbox”, and “political will”. Thus, to discuss the possibilities for the intervention and realisation of the principle of R2P, it is necessary to evaluate the conditions associated with the situation and all the available resources before selecting the intervention. Furthermore, the authors also discussed all possible limitations for referring to the concept of R2P in order to prevent the escalation of military conflicts. As a result, the situations to discuss in the context of the R2P were limited to “large scale loss of life”, genocide, and “ethnic cleansing”. In addition, the ICISS Report included the reference to such a criterion as the “right authority” that was determined as responsible for the possible military intervention. In this context, the authors of the Report proposed such possible authorities as the General Assembly, the Security Council, and specific Regional Organisations.
In addition, the criteria important for the humanitarian intervention were also discussed in the context of the R2P. The focus on the purpose and the “right intention” was emphasised as the priority to guarantee that the purpose of the intervention is not political, but humanitarian. The orientation to the needs of the civilians is discussed as the main factor in order to conclude about the legitimacy of selecting the military intervention. The idea of the ‘last resort’ was explained in terms of focusing on the necessity of reasonable grounds to state that only the military intervention is the effective approach in the concrete case. Furthermore, the necessity of referring to the proportional means was also supported. Finally, the authors of the Report focused on ‘reasonable prospects’, and stated that the “military intervention is not justified if actual protection cannot be achieved or if the consequences of embarking upon the intervention are likely to be worse than if there is no action at all”. Thus, the contribution of the ICISS to the process of discussing the issue was in the fact that they changed the reference to the “right of intervention” and proposed the “responsibility to protect”. As a result, the focus was shifted from the military aspects to the protection of individuals’ rights of civilians. Thus, it was important to pay attention to the beneficiaries of the R2P and to the concrete responsibilities of the international community, without concentrating on the aspect of the military actions. From this perspective, the authors of the ICISS Report chose to reformulate the idea of humanitarian intervention while concentrating on the R2P, and the main difference in relation to the notions is the focus on ‘protection’ in R2P, not ‘intervention’.
In 2005, Kofi Annan presented his report “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All” and added more thoughts on the idea of the R2P. As a response to Kofi Annan’s Report and to the ideas presented in the ICISS Report, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document and referred to the R2P in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the document. Thus, the UN General Assembly adopted the fact that each state is responsible for protecting citizens from mass atrocities. Hunt and Bellamy state that if there are situations when the state cannot respond to the needs of its citizens, the international community should demonstrate its responsibility to resolve the case and protect the human rights of the citizens.
The adoption of the R2P concept meant the development of further debates on the topic. Thus, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon chose to present the additional report in order to discuss more ways for the protection of individuals from mass atrocities in 2009. Furthermore, in 2014, the new report on the support for the R2P was published. During this period, the opponents of the R2P concept began to develop the idea that the R2P was only the other name for the humanitarian intervention. As a result, Luck notes that it was meaningless to expect positive changes in using interventions. On the contrary, the supporters of the R2P state that the procedure is focused not only on the coercive element, and non-military forms of prevention and post-conflict rebuilding are more connected with the main idea of the R2P. Thus, the changes in formulation and focuses of the interventions associated with the R2P led to discussing the specific responsibilities determined by the ICISS.
Responsibility to Prevent
The ‘responsibility to prevent’ is focused on the actions that are necessary to take in order to address the causes of the observed problem or conflict. If there are premises to predict that the crisis can develop in the future or the crisis can start as the reaction to certain changes in the country, it is important to propose a strategy according to which it is possible to regulate the critical situation. According to Nanda, “early warning mechanisms” work in this case. As a result, the direct causes of the internal opposition in the state can be addressed with references to this specific responsibility determined with the doctrine. From this point, the responsibility to prevent is associated with the variety of non-military actions that are oriented to respond to the interests of the civilians and avoid the military intervention.
Responsibility to React
The ‘responsibility to react’ is one of the most controversial aspects of the proposed doctrine because such critics of this stage as Weiss and Thakur state that this responsibility is only the reformulation of the international community’s right to choose the military intervention to regulate the critical situation in the concrete state. The responsibility to react means the right to use the force in order to achieve the expected results. In this case, Thakur states that the focus on the military actions can be predicted as the choice of the authorities. However, the authors of the ICISS Report noted that this responsibility includes the choice of appropriate response measures that are not limited only with coercive measures. Furthermore, the military intervention can be proposed only in extreme situations when the other approaches are meaningless.
Responsibility to Rebuild
This responsibility is also directly oriented to protecting the rights of civilians who need the opportunity to receive the complete assistance and support in order to recover after the use of the military forces. In this case, the organisers of the military intervention are responsible for the following reconstruction of the regions where the arms were used in order to provide the civilians with the necessary support and overcome the outcomes of the crisis. In spite of the fact that this option does not include the direct intervention of the international forces, it is assumed that the reconstruction can follow only the intervention. From this point, this responsibility is as controversial as the responsibility to react, as it is noted by such researchers as Follesdal, Blatter and Williams.
The humanitarian interventions that were developing during the 1990s provided an example of the exceptional and rather radical military approach to regulating the conflict situation in the state the sovereignty of which was rather questioned. Thus, humanitarian interventions became the direct response to the necessity of addressing the internal conflict in states that could not guarantee the protection of their citizens’ rights. From this point, no actual ‘humanitarian’ intervention was proposed for addressing the conflict in Rwanda or Kosovo, for instance. The actions of the international community to respond to the crisis in Rwanda were not enough, when actions of the NATO in Kosovo can be discussed as getting out of control, and the public could only focus on mass bombings instead of the resolution of the crisis. The global community needed the new effective doctrine or strategy in order to address the problems of genocide or mass killings of civilians in different states over the globe. In this context, the R2P doctrine was proposed as an alternative to the previously used humanitarian intervention. Thus, the focus on the humanitarian intervention was only the temporary measure.
In spite of the fact that many researchers discuss the responsibility to protect as similar to the humanitarian intervention in its main principles, the proponents of the new doctrine accentuate the changes in the role of the civilians. Thus, the R2P doctrine guarantees the protection of the citizens’ rights and interests rather than the focus on the interveners’ rights. The developers of the R2P concept also proposed a range of criteria to assess the situations and to discuss whether it is reasonable to refer to the military intervention or other tools in each concrete case. Furthermore, the authors of the R2P doctrine also focused on dividing the responsibility to protect into several elements in order to determine separate steps for addressing crises and conflicts. It was also noted that if the responsibility to prevent is realised effectively, it is often possible to avoid the further military intervention.
In this context, it is important to understand why such a developed and holistic approach to conflict resolution as the R2P was not effectively applied to the case of Syria. Thus, it is also necessary to state what factors could influence the international community’s decisions to intervene or not in Syria. From this point, it is also important to discuss the triggers of the Syrian crisis in the next chapter, while focusing on the aspects of Arab Spring and on the evolution of the crisis in Syria that provoked the authorities assess possible actions to take.
The Arab Spring became the central topic for the discussion by the international community in 2011. The attention of the global authorities and public were attracted to the active development of mass protests in the Arab countries because of their purpose and later consequences for the nations. Thus, the main purpose of first peaceful demonstrations and further active protests was to change the political situation in countries and to address a number of issues of concern connected with the application of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine. From this perspective, anti-government movements in countries of the Middle East and North Africa were organised to change the political situation for better and to find important solutions to the problems of poverty, corruption, and pressure in these states. Therefore, the Arab Spring started in Tunisia in 2010, but its effects were observed in about a dozen of Arab states of the region in 2011.
The international community spent much time while examining possibilities for applying the concepts of the R2P in such states as Libya and Syria, where conflicts became armed and threatening to the public and where the direct violation of human rights was observed. However, the actual actions were taken only in Libya, and the absence of the international community’s response in Syria provoked a lot of questions. Thus, Garwood-Gowers states that the avoidance of intervention in Syria was an unexpected decision for the international community and many experts became focused on comparing the situations in Libya and Syria in order to find out whether one scenario could be used in both cases. Cronogue also supports the idea that the concentration on this question was important because the inability of the international community to address the progress of the civil war in Syria evidently led to the dramatic consequences, and today the conflict in Syria are still not resolved.
From this point, it is important to examine the factors associated with the progress of the Syrian conflict in the context of the Arab Spring in detail. The reason is that it is necessary to determine why the reactions of the international community were quite different in Libya and Syria. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to discuss the triggers of the Syrian crisis and to concentrate on the key factors that influenced the development of the Syrian civil war as the next step in the Arab Spring movement. This chapter discusses the stages in the Arab Spring with the focus on the experience of such states as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya among others, and provides the analysis of the development of the Syrian revolution in this context. In addition, the chapter discusses the aspects of the humanitarian crisis in Syria with the focus on the international community’s first responses to the problem.
Arab Spring and the Syrian Revolution
The Syrian crisis that started in March of 2011 became the next step in a series of the developing Arab Spring movements. A range of internal conflicts the main goals of which were to overcome the authoritarian regimes, to address the lack of democratic institutions in the Arab countries, and to respond to the developed nepotism in this region attracted the public attention all over the globe. The series of uprisings against the authoritarian regimes that became a challenge for the international community started in Tunisia. The trigger for the development of protest movements was the death of Mohamed Bouazizi in December of 2010. Bouazizi was a vegetables seller who committed a suicide as a protest against the authorities’ market prohibitions in Tunisia. The death of the man made the public come to the streets and to protest against the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. As mass protests in Tunisia were the only first sign of the Arab Spring, the international community did not discuss the case as requiring the third party intervention. As a result, such legal aspects as the necessity of the humanitarian intervention and the R2P were not viewed as the measures to regulate the internal conflict in Tunisia.
In January of 2011, the mass protests against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak began in Egypt. The western countries supported the course of Mubarak in spite of the fact that President was not elected democratically. However, the humanitarian intervention was not viewed as the legal international response to the problem. Nuruzzaman mentions in his work that the “popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt created no serious international concerns to intervene”, and the United Nations did not initiate the discussions of the case regarding the possibilities of implementing the R2P as a strategy in the region. In spite of the United States’ propositions, the R2P doctrine was not selected as the crisis mitigation strategy. Furthermore, in contrast to the situation in Egypt that made the international community focus on the problem of intervention, the movements in Bahrain and other countries did not attract much attention of the international community. Thus, according to Monshipouri and Wieger, “the UN Security Council has been indifferent to political unrest and human rights abuses in Bahrain and Yemen”.
However, the situation changed with the first signs of a crisis in Libya. The Arab Spring movements became discussed as important for the promotion of the ideas of democracy in the Arab world. Thus, much international attention became paid to the crisis in Libya because of the western countries’ interests in overthrowing the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. In 2011, the mass anti-government uprising in Libya led to the downfall of the authoritarian regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Demonstrations were not peaceful, and there were many victims of the opposition between the protestors and police. The escalation of the conflict led to discussing the opportunities for the humanitarian intervention. As a result, the R2P doctrine was declared as the necessary force action to be applied to the situation in Libya. Nanda notes that the declared motive for the speedy intervention in the country was the violence and repression against demonstrators and other protestors. In response to the opponents’ visions, the United Nations stated that their decisive actions were taken according to the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine and for the welfare of the nation.
If the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were comparatively peaceful, the protests in Libya led to the intervention of the third force in the conflict and to the downfall of the Gaddafi regime as well as to his death. Therefore, to change the political regime, the pattern of the Arab Spring uprisings was also followed in Syria, while leading to the development of the Syrian revolution. The purpose of first nonviolent demonstrations in Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, and Homs among other cities was to claim the necessity of democratic changes in the country. In his article, Zifcak notes that in February of 2011, “demonstrations against the government occurred initially in relation to issues such as poverty, inequality, restrictions upon freedom of speech, the desire for democracy and the demand that human rights be respected”. However, in spite of stating that the claims of the protestors would be addressed, later, President Bashar al-Assad rejected the opportunities for democratic reforms, and the authorities started to break up demonstrations with the help of violent and rather oppressing measures.
As a result, during the first months of the revolution, hundreds of demonstrators were shot, and the violent reaction of the authorities to the demonstrations provoked the further development of the protest movement. It is possible to note that the further spread of protests was a direct reaction to the authorities’ actions. This idea is proposed in the work by Zifcak, who states that the protest movement “responded to the repression by shifting its focus from demanding reforms to the regime to advocating its removal, thus reflecting the calls that had been heard in other parts of the region”. In summer of 2011, anti-government protests in Syria became discussed as especially risky because of the possible development of the civil war. The situation was complicated with the fact that civilian protests were also sectarian in their nature, and there was a risk of the sectarian war.
In spite of the fact that the Syrian revolution developed and the uprising became armed, the international community rejected discussing the opportunities for applying the R2P doctrine in the country. The problem was also in the fact that the opinions of the international leaders regarding the support of this or that force in the country were divided. Thus, it is important to pay attention to the fact that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was supported by such countries as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran, but the protestors were supported by such western countries as the United States and Britain. Therefore, the dramatic consequences of the international community’s hesitation were the further development of the Syrian revolution that led to the humanitarian crisis in the country, and the United Nations began to point at the necessity of the intervention because of the needed response to the mass atrocities.
Humanitarian Crisis in Syria
The Syrian uprising started as the mass opposition to the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad, but the quick development of the uprising into the civil war with the use of arms led to the humanitarian catastrophe. Since 2011, the international authorities received many reports on uncontrolled violation and massacres in Syria. According to those reports, thousands of civilians became the victims of the military suppression of protests by the forces of the Syrian militia. The scope of the problem was so large that it became discussed by the UN Human Rights Council. Therefore, to address the problem by means of the international community, the UN Human Rights Council initiated the investigation of atrocities in Syria with the focus on the support of the UN Commission for Human Rights.
The investigators assigned for examining the aspects of the Syrian crisis pointed at the use of excessive forces against the civilians by the leaders of the country in a series of reports in 2011 and 2012. Loiselle claims that the problem was in the fact that different types of used forces against the civilians were in line with the Syrian policy regarding the crime against the security of the state. As a result, the international community had few opportunities to declare that the observed actions, with the specific focus on public arrests, were the crimes against humanity. Furthermore, it was impossible for investigators to observe the actual situation in Syria because of the limited possibilities to visit the country due to the restrictions posed by the Syrian government. The UN reports were based on interviews with victims who left the country or who could contact the investigators with the help of electronic resources. The conducted interviews provided a lot of reliable information on the situation in Syria in terms of arrests and mass killings of civilians to support the discussion of cases of human rights violations. According to Nanda, the conclusions that the actions of the Syrian leaders were crimes against humanity were made in the reports by the UN Commission several times. As it is noted by Small, “the actions taken by the Syrian government arguably met the standard of Mass Atrocity Crimes”, and the investigators stated that the responsibility for violations of human rights was on the Syrian authorities.
As a result, the Syrian government could not be discussed as responsible for protecting the rights of the Syrian citizens. Furthermore, according to Carpenter, the UN Commission’s reports were important to demonstrate the critical situation in Syria, but they were ineffective to call for the necessary response from the international community. The reason is the lack of the actual or physical data to support the statements regarding the mass atrocities in the country. The statements of investigators that the observed crimes were also violations of the “international humanitarian law” were not convincing for such states as Russia and China, which vetoed the United Nations’ attempts to pose strong sanctions on Syria and to use such measures as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in order to overcome the humanitarian crisis. From this point, it is necessary to focus on the details of the humanitarian crisis’s development in Syria.
It was reported in November of 2011 that the policy of torture against the protestors was the common method used by the representatives of the Bashar al-Assad’s regime to suppress the opposition. As a result, thousands of Syrians were unlawfully arrested and sent to detention centres. Tortures, violation, and ill-treatment can be discussed as the basic measures to suppress the will of protestors in Syria. In addition to the mass arrests of the anti-government movement representatives, the Syrian leaders continued to use weapons and bombardment against the civilians. The consequences of such actions were the lack of such important resources as water and food in the urban and rural territories of the country. Thousands of civilians were left without electricity. As a result of the active bombardment and air attacks, thousands of Syrians lost their homes. All these details associated with the progress of the humanitarian catastrophe in the country were reported by the UN investigators. Therefore, according to Nanda, the activities of the Bashar al-Assad’s regime were discussed by the international community as crimes against humanity. However, the reaction of the UN Security Council to the humanitarian problem in Syria was not immediate. According to Small, “though the Security Council, and later the Human Rights Council, condemned Syria, the violence escalated until more than 1,000 people had died and 8,000 more had been arbitrarily detained”. The main reason for postponing the active reaction to the crisis was the vetoes of such countries as Russia and China that blocked the further discussion and implementation of two proposed resolutions.
It was stated in several variants of the UN resolution that the violence against civilians was condemned and that the Syrian government should take actions in order to cease the development of the civil war in the country. The developers of the resolution pointed at the necessity of protecting the Syrian population from the violation of human rights and from possible illegal arrests and restrictions. The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine was discussed as the main measure to overcome the problem in Syria, while referring to the positive experience in Libya. However, no drafts and final resolutions were supported by all the members of the Council. The resolution that was proposed by such countries as France, Germany, and the UK was not supported by all the representatives of the international community as well. If Russia and China vetoed the resolution, the countries of the Latin American chose to abstain in the vote.
While discussing the absence of agreement in the member states of the UN Security Council, Zifcak notes that “different emphases were plainly visible when its members considered what action should be taken”. As a result, the lack of the strong strategy to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria demonstrated by the UN Security Council provoked a lot of questions in the public interested in the quick resolution of the conflict to save the lives of thousands of civilians. Thus, Nuruzzaman states in his article that “the way the Security Council reacted so quickly to the Libyan situation surprised many people as equally or more appalling human sufferings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen were ignored for an unexpectedly long time”. Positive changes were observed only in 2014, when the UN Security Council members agreed on the resolution prohibiting the use of the chemical weapons in Syria.
The Arab Spring demonstrated that the international community’s response to the crises in states where the population suffers from the government’s atrocities can be different. In spite of the fact that the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine is discussed by the UN Security Council as the most effective measure to address humanitarian catastrophes associated with violation of human rights, each situation should be analysed separately, depending on the movements’ purposes and development. The causes of the Syrian crisis were in the public’s intentions to change the rule because of the aspiration associated with the success of protests in Tunisia and Egypt. More public attention was paid to the intense struggle for the new political course in Libya. From this point, the development of the Syrian revolution into the civil war was not the unexpected course of events because of references to the example of Libya. The Syrian protesters desired to achieve their proclaimed goals. However, it is important to note that the international community hesitated to apply the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ concept in case of Syria even after the facts of crimes against humanity had been determined by the UN investigators.
Thus, the progressing domestic conflict in Syria led to the development of the humanitarian crisis in the state, where thousands of people became the victims of the government’s oppression and illegal activities. The consequences of the Arab Spring for the Syrian population accentuated the necessity of strong actions in order to respond to the developing conflicts in the country. Thus, there were no decisive actions to be taken in case of Syria in contrast to the situation in Libya, and this fact provoked many questions in experts and researchers. The reason for developing new debates on the issue is in the fact that the problem is still not solved, and the consequences of the UN Security Council’s inactivity are observed even today. In order to understand why the international community failed to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria adequately, it is necessary to discuss the responses to the Syrian crisis in the next chapter. It is important to discuss the situation in Syria in the context of the R2P doctrine and in contrast to the active discussion of the international criminal justice tools. It is also significant to compare and contrast the aspects associated with these two cases in order to conclude about the possibilities for using the example of Libya while trying to address the crisis in Syria. Therefore, the next chapter will provide the analysis of possible obstacles and prospects associated with the application of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in different contexts.
Responses to the Syrian Crisis
The reports of the UN Human Rights Council on the progress of the humanitarian crisis in Syria made the UN Security Council focus on discussing the appropriate means for addressing the crimes against humanity in the state. However, Yaphe notes that the UN Security Council did not use a chance of uniting the forces to overcome the problem, and it demonstrated the inability to react to the Syrian crisis effectively, in contrast to the active response to the Libyan conflict. While focusing on the UN Security Council’s impossibility to adequately respond to the developed civil war in Syria, Nanda compares the Council’s inactivity with the “paralysis” that was caused by “the Russian and Chinese veto of resolutions addressing the Syrian crisis”. Therefore, the opinions of the UN Security Council members on the problem were highly divided.
Furthermore, following Nanda’s ideas, it is possible to state that this “paralysis” called into question “the international community’s commitment to act collectively ‘in a timely and decisive manner’ through the Security Council to protect the populations from mass atrocity crimes, including crimes against Humanity”. Thus, there were two conflicts in different states which began to develop in 2011 as a response to the ideas of the Arab Spring. The conflict in Libya was addressed with the help of the military intervention based on the R2P doctrine, and the conflict in Syria was not addressed at all, in spite of numerous attempts to adopt the resolution regarding the response to the Syrian crisis.
Focusing on the case of Syria, it is important to examine the responses to the crisis in detail in order to state why the reasons for the intervention in Libya did not work to prove the necessity of applying the R2P doctrine in Syria. From this point, to conclude about the perspectives of adopting the R2P doctrine in case of Syria, it is necessary to pay attention to different opinions of experts and researchers on the UN Security Council’s position and on the legal background of the case. This chapter discusses how it is possible to apply the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ concept to the Syria situation and focuses on the international criminal justice debates, analyses the UN Security Council’s responses to the Syrian crisis and their consequences for the development of the conflict, discusses the causes for non-intervention in Syria, and focuses on obstacles in implementing the R2P in the state in contrast to the pattern in Libya.
The International Criminal Justice
The notion of the international criminal justice is used to discuss the tools and strategies utilised by the international community to respond to such international politically motivated crimes as mass atrocities and genocide. From this point, the goal of the international criminal justice system is to propose the ways that can be effectively used in order to address the violation of human rights, international laws and standards, and to prevent these crimes in the future with the focus on criminal prosecutions. In this context, international criminal courts play the key role in punishing perpetrators in the international criminal justice system. However, the orientation of the international criminal justice tools and approaches toward the development of criminal prosecutions provokes additional debates regarding the appropriateness of the international criminal justice for peace building. According to Guilhot, the opponents of the international criminal justice tools state that this system is not appropriate for organising peaceful negotiations, and it is more associated with using violent measures in order to restore the international peace. Still, the international criminal justice has more legal grounding than any proposed peaceful doctrine when it is related to the question of responsibility for crimes.
Therefore, the proponents of using the international criminal justice as the guarantee of international peace building state that there are situations when the use of criminal prosecutions is the only chance to achieve the desired result. In order to protect victims of the genocide and mass atrocities and prevent the spread of violence in other countries, as it is in case of Syria and neighboring Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, it is important to develop the effective international criminal justice strategy and pursue justice as well as peace. The international criminal justice is one of few tools used in the international law that has the potential to prevent the spread of international crimes and promote peace building in response to such conflicts as the Syrian one.
The proponents of using the international criminal justice approaches for resolving the Syrian conflict claim that such conflicts should not be viewed only from the perspective of political and military incidents. According to Bellamy, these cases are directly related to the sphere of the international criminal justice because such leaders as Bashar al-Assad need to be prosecuted as criminals because of the impossibility to stop crimes against humanity in their states and because of contributing to the spread of the conflict in the region. In spite of the fact that there are many questions regarding the identification of persons responsible for crimes in Syria because many supporters of the regime at the international arena argue against such approaches, it is important to use the international criminal justice framework and international criminal justice tools to punish criminals.
On the one hand, the approaches associated with the international criminal justice oppose the approaches associated with peace building in the context of humanitarian missions and peace talks. On the other hand, in the sphere of the international law and the R2P doctrine, the international criminal justice is one of the most appropriate perspectives from which it is possible to discuss the Syrian situation. The principles of the international criminal justice allow focusing on the history of resolving similar questions previously. From this point, the international criminal justice seems to propose all the necessary tools and methods to address international conflicts, promote peace building, and protect citizens for crimes performed by state leaders. In this context, the international criminal justice is important to address the problem in Syria from the perspective of the international law because the protection of peace and security questions cannot be discussed as political issues when thousands of people can become victims of crimes against humanity.
Syrian Situation in Light of the Responsibility to Protect
The principles of the international law on preventing atrocities are constantly developing, depending on the cases of the law implementation in different contexts. Therefore, the concept of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ was changed with the R2P doctrine in order to protect populations from the most brutal crimes and violations of human rights. If a state is unable to protect the population from atrocity crimes, as it is in case of Syria, the international community can use certain means to take responsibility for protecting the nation. However, according to Bernstein, in this context, the focus can be put on peaceful means, and the use of the military force is the most radical measure that can be used in the most critical cases. Thus, the R2P doctrine can be viewed as being characterised by certain limitations. These limitations are associated with the factors that are known as the ‘pillars’ of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine.
Following Doyle’s discussion of the doctrine, it is important to emphasise that the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ concept is based on three important pillars that need to be addressed during the legal decision-making process faced by the international community. According to the first pillar, the state is responsible for protecting the citizens from atrocities. Thus, the primary task of the government is to protect the population. According to the second pillar, the international community can perform only as an assistant in the process, while supporting the states to act according to their responsibility. Finally, the third pillar indicates that the international community has the right to act decisively in order to protect the population in the concrete state from the mass atrocities and violation of human rights. Following the principles of the international law and pillars of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, the Syrian government had the responsibility to protect the lives and interests of the population, but it failed to perform effectively, while discussing the case from the point of the third pillar. Hehir states that in spite of the fact that the international community expected to act according to the second pillar, and it could provide the necessary assistance to the Syrian state, the actual development of events was too rapid in order to propose the effective aid in the controversial conflict.
While focusing on the Syrian situation and discussing it in the context of the R2P doctrine, it is important to state that the three mentioned pillars of the doctrine could be adequately used in order to explain the necessity of the intervention. However, according to Rose, the UN Security Council members really failed to use the R2P principles in order to support their position regarding the intervention in Syria because of the lack of consensus. The UN Security Council members demonstrated that they can easily apply the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, if there are threats to the lives of civilians in Libya. However, the state members developed prolonged debates regarding the appropriate solution in the case of Syria. Morris develops the idea and states that the cases of the Libyan and Syrian conflicts are associated with “a curious paradox”, according to which a policy or a course of actions that in Libya was “rarely justified in terms of R2P has come … to demonstrate the dangers inherent in the concept, while in UNSC debates over Syria the linking of R2P to action over Libya has been employed to justify inaction”. From this point, the case of Syria became the stumbling block for the UN Security Council members in their discussion of the R2P concept application in a new, but rather familiar situation.
Focusing on the Syrian situation in light of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ concept, it is possible to state that the UN Security Council members faced a challenge because they could not analyse the situation in Syria properly in order to discuss it in the context of the legal notions, rather than political preferences. Criticising such approach, Dickinson claims that “the doctrine of R2P is one where, particularly, timely and decisive response needs to be thought through carefully in each individual case”. On the one hand, the developers of the resolution approached the situation in Syria as an ‘individual case’. On the other hand, even the individual approach to discussing the problem could not guarantee that the appropriate variant of applying the R2P would be proposed as a result of the discussions. Therefore, according to Dickinson, “the doctrine should be seen neither as a panacea nor a definitive answer”. In this context, the application of the R2P should be analysed not only in the concrete case but also with references to all possible consequences of the ineffective decision.
To guarantee that the decision of the international community can be effective to stop violence and crimes in the certain state, it is important to assess all the aspects of the conflict in terms of its relevance to be addressed with the help of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine. Focusing on the Syrian situation, it is important to state that each case is not only individual but also complex and rather controversial. As a result, the Syrian crisis can be discussed in light of the doctrine, but it is necessary to take into account all the features of the crisis, while evaluating the possibility of the Syrian government to become responsible for the protection of the civilians’ rights and interests.
Responses to the Syrian Crisis: UN Security Council Resolutions Dealing with Syria
The two reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry and the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Syria in 2011 provoked debates on possible solutions to address the Syrian crisis in the most effective manner. According to the reports, the Syrian government failed to protect the nation because of mass atrocities. The expected response of the UN Security Council to the problem was the development and adoption of resolutions necessary to plan and implement the concrete plan of actions in Syria. The first draft of the UN Security Council resolution appeared in October of 2011. In this variant of the resolution, the UN Security Council focused on condemning violations against the Syrian population and on formulating effective sanctions against Syria. This resolution was not supported by the majority, and it was vetoed by Russia and China. The developers of the resolution intended to avoid vetoing the next resolution, therefore, while formulating the text of the other resolution, the developers tried to avoid using the word “sanctions” in order to prevent the negative response of the UN state members. However, these activities did not result in the positive outcome, and the unity in opinions was not achieved.
Thus, in January of 2012, the debates on the appropriate variant of the resolution continued. In order to develop the final variant of the new resolution, the UN Security Council members focused on the points of the plan and resolution proposed by the Arab League. On the one hand, the resolution proposed by the Arab League could be effective because it was formulated with references to the particular features of the state development in the region. Thus, the Arab League leaders proposed the “formation of a national unity government in Syria” and expected that the Syrian government would cooperate with the Arab League, as it is stated by Zifcak. On the other hand, the proposed plan could limit the participation of the UN Security Council in the resolution of the conflict leading to the further problems at the international arena. According to Nanda, the Arab League intended to “suspend” Syria as well as to impose “tough economic sanctions to isolate Syria from the rest of the membership” in 2011 because the Syrian government first accepted the proposed plan, and then violated its points while continuing mass killings in the Syrian cities. Therefore, the plan was signed by the UN leaders, the UN Security Council paid much attention to the further discussion of the Arab League plan’s controversial points in order to include its statements in the next resolution proposed in February of 2012.
The discussion of the Draft Resolution February 2012 became for the UN Security Council the next attempt to vote for the plan of actions in order to regulate the situation in Syria. Another variant of the resolution was focused on proposing severe sanctions against the government of Syria. However, although the variant of the resolution was formulated rather effectively, it still included provocative and unclear statements limiting the legal effectiveness of the document, and it was not adopted because of the vetoes from Russia and China. From this point, the more efficient strategy was necessary in order to convince such states as Russia and China to support the proposed resolutions and to focus on the real actions in Syria. Being unable to reach the consensus while discussing the resolutions, the UN state members focused on other approaches to find the solution to the Syrian crisis.
In February of 2012, Kofi Annan was appointed as a Joint Special Envoy on Syria, and he was able to propose the prepared plan of actions in March of 2012. According to Garwood-Gowers, in spite of the fact that there was a chance to adopt Annan’s plan and regulate the situation in Syria with peaceful measures, the initiative did not result in any positive outcome because of the state members’ dissent. The controversial situation was observed when Annan’s plan was adopted by the Syrian government, but it was not implemented in practice because the government discussed the UN position as the international pressure. As a result, according to Nuruzzaman, the armed violence was not stopped, the situation in the country was not stabilised, the UN supervision was rejected by the Syrian government, and the possibilities to provide the humanitarian assistance were also limited. From this perspective, there were no actual results associated with the adoption of Annan’s plan. Later, Kofi Annan rejected to continue performing as a Joint Special Envoy on Syria because of inadequate actions of the UN Security Council regarding the solution of the situation in Syria.
In June of 2012, the criticism against the actions of the UN Security Council became more obvious because experts in the field of international law and supporters of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine stated that the actions of the UN should be more decisive in order to make the Syrian government protect the people in the country. As a result, to respond to the critics’ statements and to propose the working variant of the solution to the conflict and to the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, another resolution was presented for voting in July of 2012. It was important for the Council to restore its position in the international community’s opinion, and the resolution was the result of the further revisions in ideas and statements. In spite of the fact that the resolution was supported by the majority, there were significant barriers to put its ideas in action and to prevent the human rights violations in Syria. This variant of the resolution was vetoed by Russia and China. As a consequence, the criticism against the UN Security Council’s approaches intensified. Maogoto and Coleman state that the failures of the UN Security Council to adopt effective resolutions to be implemented in case of Syria can be explained with references to the Council’s inefficient attempts to balance the focus on the state’s sovereignty and on the protection of the population’s rights. This task became a challenge for the state members responsible for making legally supported decisions.
All the UN Security Council resolutions proposed in 2011 and 2012 demonstrated the absence of any unity in the opinions of the Council members regarding the solution of the controversial situation in Syria. Only in 2013, there were the first signs of the agreement between the UN Security Council members. The passed resolution was the legal document adopted to prohibit the Syrian government to develop and use the chemical weapons. The progress in the Council members’ discussion of the situation in Syria was also observed with references to adopting the resolutions on providing the humanitarian aid to Syria in 2014. However, the Syrian government discussed the provision of the humanitarian aid as the violation of border laws, and the regulation of this question still needs the detailed examination of all associated factors in order for the UN Security Council to propose the effective formulation of the necessity of the provided assistance.
The Use of Chemical Weapons and Humanitarian Intervention under R2P
In August of 2013, the Syrian authorities started to use the chemical weapons against the population of Ghouta. Small pays attention to the fact that the possibilities of such attacks were discussed by the international community previously, but no active prevention measures were proposed. Still, the international community’s response to the chemical weapons attack was immediate. According to Garwood-Gowers, “the US, UK and France attributed responsibility for the incident to the Syrian regime, and indicated that they were considering responding with military force”. However, the Syrian government did not admit the UN statements about its responsibility for the attacks. As a result, it was significant to respond to the critical situation that was threatening to not only the Syrian population but also to the global community. In this case, it was necessary to send the inspection and investigation team to Syria in order to examine the details of the incident and to state about the presence of the chemical weapons at the Syrian territory. Although the western states reported the presence of the chemical weapons in Syria during the period of the conflict development, it was also necessary to collect the independent complete data on the question. The problem was in the fact that such chemical weapon as gas was used against the public, but it was rather difficult to find the adequate evidence to state which party of the conflict used the chemical weapons. From this point the response of the UN Security Council needed to be decisive, and Resolution 2165 can be discussed as an adequate reaction to the problem of using chemical weapons in Syria.
Although the resolution on military actions was not supported by the international community, the resolution on prohibiting the use of chemical weapons passed, demonstrating the agreement on the issue among the UN Security Council members. The resolution included points on the necessity of destroying the chemical weapons in Syria. However, although the activities on destruction of chemical weapons progressed, the Syrian government did not stop using the force against the civilians. Therefore, the need for the humanitarian intervention in Syria under the principles of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine is still the most discussed issue associated with the Syrian crisis. As it is noted by Hehir, the number of the civil war victims tends to increase, but there are no actual solutions to the conflict. Although the use of chemical weapons in Syria is discussed as a trigger for the further use of the force against the civilians, the international community fails to develop the plan of action associated with the principles of the humanitarian intervention in order to address the problem directly and prevent further deaths of the Syrians.
In spite of the fact that the resolution on the use of chemical weapons was actively supported by the UN Security Council members, it did not provide the grounds for the planned military intervention in Syria. Therefore, the aspects of the possible humanitarian intervention were revised several times in order to take effective measures to protect the civilians’ in Syria, but to avoid the use of force. Even at this stage, the UN Security Council members did not discuss the actual concepts of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, as it is noted by Garwood-Gowers. As a result, the idea proclaiming in 2014 on the necessity of the military intervention was not actively supported by the international community again. The reason was in the fact that the UN Security Council members tried to balance concepts from different doctrines and avoid the use of the force in the situation when the humanitarian intervention provoked a lot of debates and was associated with a lot of controversies.
One of the barriers to decide on the effective action plan to be implemented in Syria is the impossibility to state the boundaries in discussion of the humanitarian intervention or R2P. According to Schmitt, the problem was in the fact that “a legal right of humanitarian intervention is not widely accepted. Instead, States generally tend to cite a ‘Responsibility to Protect’”. As a result, the lack of the adequate formulations in resolutions proposed by the UN Security Council and by the European countries provoked more debates and misunderstanding. Discussing the effectiveness of the R2P to address the problem in Syria, Schmitt also states that “R2P is a political mechanism and moral imperative, not a legal obligation or right”. Therefore, the absence of the strong legal basis for the R2P and its dependence on the authorisation by the UN Security Council were discussed by such researchers as Nasser-Eddine and Gifkins as the factors limiting its effectiveness. Analysing the critics’ approach, it is important to pay attention to the fact that the humanitarian intervention is an independent legal concept. In comparison, the R2P is discussed by Schmitt as lacking its legal basis and aspects. From this perspective, while pointing at the necessity of the military intervention into Syria without adopting associated resolutions, the leaders of some European countries focused on the humanitarian intervention rather than on the application of the R2P to the case, and such approach led to disappointing results.
Intervention in Libya: The UN Security Council Resolution 1973
In order to understand the barriers and challenges associated with the use of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in Syria, it is necessary to focus on the events and decisions made by the international community that led to the military intervention in Libya in 2011. In contrast to the situation in Syria, the decision regarding the application of the R2P in Libya was made in a rather timely manner. The first step in responding to the Libyan crisis was the adoption of Resolution 1973, according to which the UN Security Council members voted for the enforcement of the no-fly zone with the support from the Arab League and for the use of any appropriate measures to regulate the conflict in Libya and to protect civilians. Thus, Resolution 1973 authorised the members of the UN Security Council “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. Such countries as Brazil, Russia, India, and China chose to abstain while voting for the resolution indicating the controversial character of the document, the statements of which could be interpreted with the focus on violating the state sovereignty rather than protecting the rights of civilians in Libya, as it is stated by Hehir in his discussion of the resolution.
The second step was performed in less than forty-eight hours, and it was associated with the actual military actions. The British, French, and American leaders declared the start of the military operations in less than two days after the resolution was passed. The main purpose of the military attacks was to prevent Gaddafi from violating the human rights and from the active use of weapons against the Libyan population. According to Ala Hamoudi, this step was important to lead to the final and most influential step in this case. The third step was the transferal of the responsibility for the actual military intervention in Libya and for “enforcing the arms embargo and no-fly zone” to NATO in March of 2011. NATO continued the military activities in Libya till October of 2011.
The discussion of these three steps is important to be presented in the paper in order to conclude about the appropriateness of following the Libyan example in case of Syria. On the one hand, the adoption of Resolution 1973 meant the implementation of a range of diplomatic measures in order to regulate the situation in the country. The enforcement of the no-fly zone was supported with economic sanctions, and the purpose of these activities was to restrict the Syrian government in relation to the further development of the conflict. On the other hand, the UN Security Council members chose to concentrate on the immediate implementation of other active measures to prevent the development of the crisis that could be discussed under the category of “all necessary measures… to protect civilians”. Dickinson explains the states’ actions noting that the focus of the British, French, and American leaders on starting the military intervention and on involving the NATO forces in resolving the conflict was based on the broad interpretation of the statements proposed in Resolution 1973 according to the principles of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine.
On the other hand, the legal character of Resolution 1973 can be proved, while focusing on its statements as the exceptions supported with the principles of the R2P. In his work, Garwood-Gowers states that the Libyan intervention supported with Resolution 1973 provoked a lot of discussion because the use of military actions for protecting the lives of civilians was the exception even for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine and for the other UN documents discussed as the legal base for such interventions. Thus, “although the use of force was for humanitarian or civilian protection purposes, it was an exercise of the UNSC’s enforcement powers under chapter VII of the UN Charter”. Garwood-Gowers also continues that “in this respect at least, the Libyan intervention was legally uncontroversial”. From this point, while discussing the humanitarian intervention in Libya, it is reasonable to explain the military activities of NATO in the region as the exception from the rule rather than an example of a legal justification for the military intervention supported with the UN Security Council.
Resolution 1973 attracted the attention of the public all over the globe because of providing the broad definition for measures important to be taken in case of protecting the civilians’ rights. Thus, all the used measures were expected to be “necessary”. According to Payandeh, in a “legal doctrine, ‘necessary’ can have different meanings”. The international community could discuss mild peaceful means as necessary to protect the humanity in Libya, but their choice was to use the military intervention in order to address a possible threat of the developing Libyan conflict to the international security. Therefore, Bernstein notes that “the military intervention in Libya has given the international community a moment to reflect on the successes and failures of the R2P framework”. It was important for the UN Security Council to decide on the pros and cons of the application of the R2P in other contexts.
Resolution 1973 can be discussed as the first authorisation for the use of coercive forceful actions in order to address the conflict by the international community according to the R2P doctrine. Unclear statements in the resolution provoked the potential abuse of the R2P doctrine for justifying the military intervention in spite of the fact that the resolution did not actually authorise the use of force in case of Libya. Therefore, the abuse of the doctrine by the international authorities to support the change of the regime in Libya caused the rise of criticism regarding the appropriateness of using the R2P doctrine in case of Syria. However, there are also supporters of the military intervention in Libya who state that the application of the R2P was rather successful and beneficial. Thus, according to Zifcak, “it was not just the military win that served to secure R2P as an international political doctrine of very considerable importance. The Libyan success had a number of novel aspects each of which consolidated the doctrine’s gains”. While referring to two opposite visions on the success of applying the R2P in Libya, it is possible to state that the approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and the success of the doctrine adoption depends on the selected strategy used by the UN Security Council members to implement the R2P principles. In case of Libya, the UN Security Council members chose to use the coercive measures and organised the military intervention. In case of Syria, the state members focused on non-intervention. Nevertheless, in both cases, UN Security Council members referred to the principles of the R2P in order to explain their actions.
Non-Intervention in Syria
While discussing different measures to resolve the conflict in Syria, the international community demonstrated the unpreparedness to the use of both peaceful or diplomatic measures and active military measures. If the possibility of coercive approaches provoked a lot of discussion because of the controversial nature of the Syrian conflict, the legal uncertainties, the question of sovereignty, and risks of the religious oppositions, the non-coercive measures were discussed as inappropriate to be implemented in Syria with the focus on political and economic aspects. As a result, Williams notes that effective measures were not proposed and the absence of the humanitarian intervention in Syria in any form led to the enormous increase in the number of victims of the civil war. While trying to explain the UN Security Council’s position, Nuruzzaman states that the course of non-intervention in Syria was selected by the representatives of the international community because of the necessity to prevent any instability in the region and because of the impossibility to reach a consensus on taking appropriate measures against the activities of the Syrian government. To discuss the issue of non-intervention in Syria in detail, it is important to focus on obstacles to applying the R2P doctrine and on prospects for the further development of the concept.
In order to find the answer to the question on why the UN Security Council failed to prove the necessity of the intervention in Syria, researchers focus on comparing the features of the conflicts observed in Libya and Syria. According to Loiselle, the conflicts in these two countries are similar only with references to the purpose of the first public protests. However, the actual development of the conflict has many differences. The problem is in the fact that the Syrian population is more complex in terms of its ethnic and religious background. It is also important to pay attention to the fact that the authorities in Syria belong to the religious minority group in the country. As a result, the start of the conflict was only the matter of time, as it is stated by Wilson in his research. From this point, non-intervention in Syria contributed to avoiding making the conflict more complex.
However, many scholars and experts in the international law support the opposite opinion and state that the non-intervention has more negative outcomes for the Syrian population than the use of forces. As a result, in order to overcome possible obstacles, it is important to review the approach to the R2P. Discussing the non-intervention in Syria, Williams, Ulbrick, and Worboys state that the main reason for the problem is the ineffective veto system used during the process of voting for the UN resolutions. Thus, “despite R2P’s important contributions to the protection of populations over the past decade, the Security Council’s veto system can still create situations where states can commit mass atrocity crimes against their citizens”. This idea is also developed by other researchers.
According to Stuenkel, in order to improve the procedure of regulating conflicts by the forces of the international community and act in accordance with the principles of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, it is necessary to provide the international authorities with more powers to select and implement appropriate measures. Rose also notes that under current implementations of the R2P, the failure of the UN Security Council “to act prohibits countries from taking military action. By contrast, in the proposed implementation, such inertia would allow countries to offer protection until the Security Council chose to act, rather than require the world to stand by idly”. It is argued by the researcher that having more independence in actions, the international community can propose the immediate course of actions in order to address identified problems involving the case of human rights violation.
In addition, such researchers as Cronogue and Zifcak state that non-intervention in Syria is a direct result of the analysis of the Libyan pattern. The problem is in the fact that NATO “had pushed the boundaries of Resolution 1973 far beyond its primary objective, which had been to protect the civilian population from attacks by government forces”. El Hassan bin Talal and Rolf Schwarz also note that even referring to the example of Libya, the developers of the resolutions to be adopted by the UN Security Council did not mention the R2P doctrine clearly as the base for their planned activities. As a result, there was no actual legal justification for the proposed response to the brutal actions of the Syrian government. The members of the UN Security Council failed to discuss the case in the context of the three pillars associated with the R2P doctrine as well as in the context of three ‘responsibilities’: to prevent, to protect, and to rebuild. Therefore, it was rather difficult to advocate for the adoption of the proposed resolutions referring only to the claims that the intervention was necessary.
Focusing on the prospects for the future development of the R2P, it is important to note that some changes in the interpretation of the doctrine’s pillars and basic statements are necessary. According to Williams, Ulbrick, and Worboys, “at present, R2P lacks a framework for the limited use of force when the Security Council fails to act. In its present formulation, therefore, R2P is missing a crucial component”. The further use of the R2P to address the crises similar to the Syrian conflict is possible only if the formulation of the R2P concepts will be improved and the procedure for the adoption of necessary measures will be revised to provide the UN Security Council with more opportunities to act immediately in response to the critical situation.
While comparing the situations and the decision-making process related to the cases of Libya and Syria, it is important to focus on the fact that the international community chose rather opposite positions and courses of actions. Thus, in spite of discussing the possibilities for using the international criminal justice tools to address the conflict, the UN Security Council members demonstrated the high level of uncertainty and indecisiveness in case of Syria, when their actions in Libya were rather vigorous. Protestors in Syria followed the same Arab Spring ideas as the representatives of the anti-government movement in Libya, but the inaction of the UN Security Council in Syria had the more dramatic effect because it led to more deaths of the Syrians. From this point, the absence of any adequate legal reaction to the conflict from the international community was one of the reasons for the further progress of the civil war. The analysis of the Syrian situation in the context of the R2P and with the focus on comparing its aspects with the situation in Libya allowed identifying the causes for the non-intervention in Syria, determining the obstacles associated with the process, and identifying the perspectives for the possible improvement of the R2P doctrine in the future.
In order to overcome the obstacles associated with the implementation of the R2P in Syria and similar contexts, it is possible to change the legal procedure of authorising the R2P doctrine to be used to protect the people’s lives. It is also possible to pay more attention to clarifying the R2P aspects in order to provide the international leaders with more opportunities to regulate the military conflicts. Currently, in order to implement the resolution that can be discussed as calling for the active coercive actions taken by the international community in the other state, it is necessary to receive the approval of all the UN Security Council members. However, in this case, the national interests of the UN Security Council members can be put higher than the focus on the protection of humanity. To prevent the situations when only coercive measures are used, as it is in case of Libya, or none measures are followed, as it is in case of Syria, it is important to improve the procedure of applying the R2P doctrine while reconsidering the participation of the UN Security Council in this process. Another approach is based on formulating clear instructions on the use of the R2P with the focus on all possible peaceful means that can be referred to in the context of the R2P’s three pillars.
Referring to the aspects of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine and to the development of the crisis in Syria, it is rather difficult to find the answer to the question on the effectiveness of the doctrine to be applied in this particular context. On the one hand, the conflicts in Libya and Syria can be discussed as having the same origin, and as a result, the outcomes of the application of the R2P doctrine to the situation in Libya can cause the same results in Syria. On the other hand, there are two different countries and different conflicts as well as opposite views of the international community on these conflicts. Focusing on the aspect of the legal justification for the intervention in Libya, many critics of using the R2P in this country pay much attention to the controversial participation of NATO in the intervention. Therefore, experts doubt about the effectiveness of using the R2P measures not only in Libya but also in other states. As a result, the majority of scholars, including Hehir, Monshipouri, and Wieger, are inclined to claim that it is more reasonable to focus on the possibilities to refer to pillars one and two while applying the R2P doctrine to the situation in Syria rather than discuss the consequences of pillar three in this context. From this point, the focus should be on the responsibility of the state to protect the interests and rights of the population and on the possibilities for providing the humanitarian assistance to suffering civilians. In order to discuss the problem from this perspective, it is necessary to overcome a range of barriers associated with the R2P implementation in Syria. In addition, it is important to remember about the necessity of involving the International Criminal Court is addressing the issue.
The crisis in Syria cannot be resolved effectively till the international community hesitates regarding the implementation of the R2P doctrine and cannot propose the alternative variants associated with the idea of humanitarian assistance. It is impossible to wait till the interests of the Arab League, Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in the region can become similar in order to achieve the required consensus regarding the humanitarian intervention in Syria. Furthermore, the manipulation of the facts about the experience of NATO in Libya cannot contribute to convincing the opponents of the R2P as well. At the current stage, the participation of NATO in resolving the crisis in Libya is often discussed as a disappointing strategy to protect the people’s rights in the state. In case of Syria, this opinion tends to be claimed by many researchers, and it is supported with the idea that the application of the R2P doctrine in the country will lead to the bloody conflict between the Syrian army and international military forces, as a result, such a decisive action will cause more atrocities.
From this point, the main obstacles that prevent the international community from proposing the legally effective variant to respond to the crisis in Syria and to apply the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine are:
- the focus on NATO’s abuse of rights in case of Libya and the discussion of the intervention as a failure;
- the lack of consensus among the UN Security Council members regarding the appropriateness of applying the R2P doctrine in the context of Syria;
- the inability to propose the alternative legal variants based on the principles of the R2P doctrine while avoiding the direct military intervention.
In addition, focusing on the implementation of the R2P concept in Syria during these days, it is important to take into account such aspects as the intense opposition of different religious groups, different ideologies, and different political interests serving as the grounds for the civil war. Thus, any inadequate intervention in the conflict organised by the international community can provoke the further escalation of violence. From this perspective, any humanitarian interventions or strategies used to protect the population should be perfectly adjusted to the context and specific current situation in Syria. The absence of the adequate response of the international community to the crisis during 2011 and 2012 provoked the irreversible changes in the conflict and visions of the international public regarding the Syrian situation.
However, researchers and experts in the field of international law try to determine the paths for the further progress of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in order to provide the international community with more opportunities to implement this concept in such crises as the Syrian one. The prospects for the future development of the R2P doctrine are in seeking alternative means to protect the population in Syria without focusing on the use of military forces. The international authorities should pay more attention to developing sanctions limiting the Syrian government in their activities. These sanctions can also be rather threatening, but the authorities can avoid the strategies based on the direct use of the force. In contrast, it is possible to concentrate on the situations in which it is reasonable to use the limited military force in order to protect the Syrian civilians, as it is proposed by Small. However, even the future use of the R2P is associated with the main purpose of the doctrine that is to protect the civilians from atrocities. In this context, the prohibition of atrocity crimes is necessary condition to guarantee the successful implementation of the R2P doctrine.
To achieve the success in resolving the conflict in Syria by means of the R2P doctrine, it is necessary to concentrate on protecting the human rights without promoting the political interests of other countries. Thus, according to the principles of the international law, the R2P needs to protect civilians rather than different political groups, while participating in conflicts in Libya or Syria. The R2P doctrine should not be used in order to justify the change of the political regime. Following Kuwali, utilising the R2P concept, it is important to act “in favour of humanity”. As a result, to be applied effectively in Syria, the R2P doctrine should be reviewed. The international community, including the Arab League and the UN should try again to focus on proposing the alternative variants of the humanitarian assistance to the population in Syria without focusing on the military intervention. The concept of the R2P is rather broad to be interpreted only in light of the possibility or not for the use of military forces. If the use of military forces to cease the conflict is not discussed as a goal, and the international community is focused on protecting the rights of civilians, it is possible to avoid bloody conflicts in the future.
In this context, it is significant to refer to the words by Kuwali, according to whom “the Syrian situation tests the international community’s ability and willingness to operationalise R2P consistently”. The problem is in the fact that the UN Security Council failed to act in case of Syria, without proposing either peaceful means to address the situation or proving the necessity of the coercive actions. Therefore, the civil war in Syria needs to be addressed by the international community because it causes instability not only for the nation but also for the whole Middle East region, while violating the rights of the population.
Draft Resolution – Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America, 67th sess, UN Doc S/2012/77, sec. 1.
Draft Resolution – France, Germany, Portugal and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 66th sess, UN Doc S/2011/612, sec. 1.
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