Human Rights Journal symposium examines responsibility to protect


Notre Dame Prof. Mary Ellen O’Connell Speaks at the HRJ Symposium

The Harvard Human Rights Journal held its 2009 Symposium “Responsibility to Protect” on February 20th at the Sheraton Commander hotel in Cambridge. The event started with a lunchtime lecture on the U.N. doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, and afternoon panels featured panel discussions of the operationalization of the doctrine. The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Dr. Edward Luck, delivered a keynote address focused on the January 2009 U.N. report “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.” Although the U.N. adopted it as part of the 2005 World Summit Outcome, the Responsibility to Protect, or “R2P” as it is frequently knowncommonly abbreviated, has seen little action. Dr. Luck drew particular attention to the successful implementation of R2P in Kenya last year and discussed how the U.N. might continue to utilize the doctrine in a manner respectful of both human rights and state sovereignty.

In a panel discussion following Dr. Luck’s address, Professor W. Andy Knight of the University of Alberta began by providing a framework for thinking about the implications of R2P for the international order. Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell of Notre Dame Law School then offered a critique of the doctrine which sparked significant debate. Professor O’Connell expressed wariness over the possibility of R2P’s use as a mechanism for ill-advised humanitarian intervention and suggested instead that states take up a “responsibility to peace.”, Professors Balakrishnan Rajagopal of MIT and and Professor Hurst Hannum of Tufts found himself in agreement with the majority of her concernalso sexpressed skepticism about the establishment of R2P as a legal norm and questioned the added value of R2P in light of existing international norms and policies.

Ramesh Thakur of the University of Waterloo argued that the time for discussing R2P as humanitarian intervention has passed, and urged that the current debate expand to consider a broader range of possibilities for the doctrine. . Professor Thakur and others, along with human rights specialist Roberta Cohen and Professor Sheri Rosenberg of the Cardozo School of Law, drew upon the January U.N. report to stress the potential role of R2P as a preventative strategy and post-conflict remedy, rather than as a mere tool for humanitarian intervention. Although no specific consensus was reached, the symposium sparked conversation about the operationalization of R2P and its implications for human rights and national sovereignty.

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