Background research

Download the Literature Review and Analysis document PDF file 1.9mb

About the Literature Review and Analysis

This review and analysis covers the two international protection norms of the Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Each of the first two parts delineates in turn the two norms, before moving in the third section to consider literature on their basic conceptual, normative, legal and operational inter-relations.

This document will be primarily of use to scholars, postgraduate students, commentators and (theoretically-minded) practitioners wanting to know the nature, issues, critiques, areas of ambiguity, recent development and justifications of these two international protection norms, and the main literature associated with each of these topics.

The document’s primary purpose is to survey the key literature (though even at its substantial length and with its copious footnotes, it is by no means exhaustive in this respect). A certain amount of argument and analysis structures some sections – especially in Parts 2 and 3 – but the reader should have little trouble distinguishing the places where substantive views are being developed from the places where the existing literature is being explained.

Most sections can stand alone, without requiring knowledge of what has preceded it. The document is intended as a useful research tool to be searched as necessary for particular topics or authors, rather than being read from cover to cover.

Norms of Protection: Responsibility to Protect, Protection of Civilians and Their Interaction (Edited collection)

A series of humanitarian tragedies in the 1990s (Somalia, 1992–1994; Rwanda, 1994; Srebrenica, 1995; Kosovo, 1999) demonstrated the failure of the international community to protect civilians in the context of complex emergencies. These brought to life two norms of protection – Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Protection of Civilians (POC) – both deeply rooted in the empathy that human beings have for the suffering of innocent people. The norms have achieved high-level endorsement: R2P from the 2005 World Summit Outcome document (Art. 138–140) and POC from a series of Security Council resolutions. The two norms of protection were instrumental in adopting Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 (Libya), and 1975 (Cote d’Ivoire) in 2011. Both norms raise concerns of misinterpretation and misuse. They are developing – sometimes in parallel, sometimes diverging and sometimes converging – with varying degrees of institutionalization and acceptance. This process is likely to continue for some time with successes and failures enhancing or retarding that development. This book engages in a profound comparative analysis of the norms and aims to serve policy-makers at various levels (national, regional and UN); practitioners with protective roles (force commanders, military trainers, strategists and humanitarian actors); academics and researchers (in international relations, law, political theory and ethics); civil society and R2P and POC advocates.

Security Challenges Journal Articles

The Concepts of Responsibility to Protect and Protection of Civilians: 'Sisters, but not Twins'

by Vesselin Popovski

This article examines the differences and commonalities between the concepts ‘Protection of Civilians’ (PoC) and ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) in terms of their origins, evolution and applicability to various situations. Such comparative analysis is necessary as to avoid confusion and misinterpretation. The main argument is that the two can be regarded as ‘sister’ concepts, reinforcing each other, particularly when it comes to critical situations, the most recent example being the international responses to the deadly threats to civilians in Libya in February-March 2011 and the measures imposed by the UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. The article also assesses whether the responses to the crisis in Libya represent a triumph or a failure of the ’sister’ concepts.

Libya and the Responsibility to Protect: Between Opportunistic Humanitarianism and Value-Free Pragmatism

by Ramesh Thakur

Since the Treaty of Westphalia, sovereignty has been backed by the norm of nonintervention. By contrast, the responsibility to protect (R2P) strikes a balance between unauthorised unilateral interventions and institutionalised indifference. With a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya in early 2011, the United Nations (UN) authorised the use of force to protect an imminent slaughter of civilians but prohibited taking sides in the internal civil war, intervening with ground troops, or effecting forcible regime change. The record of NATO actions in Libya marks a triumph for R2P but also raises questions about how to prevent the abuse of UN authority to use international force for purposes beyond human protection.

The Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping Operations: Recent Developments

by Michael G. Smith, Jeni Whalan and Peter Thomson

The frequency with which peacekeeping operations have proved inadequate to protect civilians has prompted substantial reform of peacekeeping mandates and practice. But it has also led to significant normative developments within the wider UN system—not just in peacekeeping mandates and practice. This article charts the normative, institutional and operations contours of the protection of civilians in armed conflict within the UN, highlighting the particular contributions of the Australian government to that agenda. It concludes by identifying four pathways through which efforts to protect civilians can be improved.

Points of Convergence and Divergence: Normative, Institutional and Operational Relationships between R2P and PoC

by Hugh Breakey and Angus Francis

As an international norm, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has gained substantial influence and institutional presence—and created no small controversy—in the ten years since its first conceptualisation. Conversely, the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (PoC) has a longer pedigree and enjoys a less contested reputation. Yet UN Security Council action in Libya in 2011 has thrown into sharp relief the relationship between the two. UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 follow exactly the process envisaged by R2P in response to imminent atrocity crimes, yet the operative paragraphs of the resolutions themselves invoke only PoC. This article argues that, while the agendas of PoC and R2P converge with respect to Security Council action in cases like Libya, outside this narrow context it is important to keep the two norms distinct. Peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, international lawyers, individual states and regional organisations are required to act differently with respect to the separate agendas and contexts covered by R2P and PoC. While overlap between the two does occur in highly visible cases like Libya, neither R2P nor PoC collapses normatively, institutionally or operationally into the other.

A Feuerbachian Inversion: From Sovereign Rights and Subjects Duties to Citizen Rights and State Duties

by Charles Sampford

The responsibility to protect (R2P) and the Protection of Civilians (PoC) are emerging international norms (or principles) with similar origins and covering similar ground. One of the most attractive features of R2P and PoC is the priority it gives to human rights over state rights. R2P emphasises that states to not have rights to intervene but harmed civilians have rights to protection and states have responsibilities. This radical inversion carries into international norms the ‘Feuerbachian’ inversion of domestic norms imposed on Westphalian sovereigns by enlightenment thinkers—who insisted that subjects did not have to prove their loyalty to sovereigns but that states had to justify themselves to their citizens. However, there remains concern at potential overreach and abuse and the ways in which the risk of such abuse may be limited. The reservations are at least as firmly grounded in western and Westphalian traditions. However, I will argue that the latter fear should not trump the feelings of empathy for unprotected civilians whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by conflict. The risk of abuse should be recognised and addressed by legal and institutional means.

Protection Norms and Human Rights: A Rights-Based Analysis of the Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

by Hugh Breakey

In the international context, human rights are rarely secured by the black letter of law, but rather by the soft laws, political policies and moral prescriptions of protection norms. Two key international protection norms are the well-established Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (PoC) and - recently added in the last decade - the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Yet there is substantial confusion about the specific nature of these two norms, their relationship to one another, and their relationship to the human rights that are held to ground and shape each of them. These questions are complex not merely because there are several distinct PoC norms, nor because all these norms differ one from another. The complexity arises because the relevant differences apply to separate dimensions of each norm. In this way it is possible for a norm to be in one sense narrower than another, yet in another sense to be deeper, and in distinct further senses to be both broader and weaker. With such intricacies in mind, this paper develops a five-dimensional rights-based analysis of norms and uses it to differentiate RtoP from three separate PoC norms, and to illustrate the distinct ways each protection norm provides multi-layered rights protection.

Back to top