The Responsibility to Protect Human Rights and the RtoP: Prospective and Retrospective Responsibility

in Global Responsibility to Protect
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This article argues that—contrary to the way that it is often framed—the first pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) is not best understood as an instantiation of a broader international responsibility to protect human rights. Firstly, the RtoP reverts to a discourse of powerful savours and passive victims, which runs against advocates’ claim that the RtoP is a ‘rights-based norm’. Secondly, although it distinguishes between prevention and response, the RtoP is still fundamentally a discussion of retrospective responsibility. The responsibility to protect human rights, by contrast, is importantly prospective. The article’s separation of prospective/retrospective responsibility from the responsibility to prevent and to respond is an independent contribution, with broader significance beyond the RtoP context. Thirdly, the RtoP becomes activated when atrocity is building, imminent or underway; whereas the responsibility to protect human rights may be breached even without a clear causal link to harm.

The Responsibility to Protect Human Rights and the RtoP: Prospective and Retrospective Responsibility

in Global Responsibility to Protect




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