School of Politics and International Studies

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal

Volume 4, Issue No. 1

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Dear Reader,

In their last annual report, Human Rights Watch warned that atrocities are the new normal. Across the world, ultranationalists are legitimising hate speech and inflammatory language, which often serve as precursors to hate crimes and act as early warnings of atrocity risks. Discussions on atrocity and conflict prevention, international criminal justice and sexual and reproductive health in conflict zones are becoming harder and harder to place on the agenda of the UN Security Council (UNSC). At the same time, despite the deadlock in the UNSC on ensuring that those responsible for gross human rights violations are brought to justice, some progress is being made in collecting and preserving evidence of crimes committed in Syria and Myanmar through the work of independent international investigative mechanisms established by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council (progress is also made regarding the collection, preservation and storying of evidence of ISIS crimes in Iraq, thanks to the work of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD), established by the UNSC). It is against this background that our fourth volume is published, bringing to the fore six student papers that touch on a variety of subjects: from the developing nature and scope of international fact finding missions to conflict related sexual and gender based violence, and the operationalisation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the Central African Republic, Myanmar, Libya and Syria.

Our issue opens with a letter signed by Dr Jess Gifkins, reviewing the big debates related to the Responsibility to Protect norm and highlighting the recent shift in R2P scholarship toward R2P implementation. The issue continues with an article by Niriksha Sanghvi, analysing the evolution of the International Fact-Finding Mission in armed conflicts – from documenting factual events to investigating, collecting, and preserving evidence of international criminal and humanitarian law violations in conflict areas. Dawn Stevenson’s article examines the gendered structural violence and inequality entrenched in patriarchal societies, as well as the multidimensional consequences of sexual abuse that make sexual violence such an effective weapon of war. Related to this, Jennifer Amy Leigh’s article analyses how gendered experiences shape processes and practices of war and peace. Turning to the implementation of R2P, Claudia Broadhead’s article examines the strengths and limitations of R2P in the Central African Republic crisis, looking at how international, regional and sub-regional organisations have operationalised the norm. Julia Smith reviews the ways in which R2P has been misapplied in Myanmar (2008), applied in Libya and absent in Syria in order to make the case that norms are “constant ‘work in progress’ that are continuously contested and transformed through practice and by a range of actors”, and to show that contestation surrounding R2P has led to the development of important initiatives such as the Responsibility Not to Veto. On the same note, Amy Hart, who also looks into the status of the R2P norm, makes the case that R2P is an established norm and highlights the limitations of norm theory.

The contributions to this issue continue to expand the scope of the R2P Student Journal, making it focus on broader subjects related to understanding the causes and responses to gross human rights violations.


Georgiana Epure and Kristin Smette Gulbrandsen


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  • The Final Frontier: R2P and Implementation

    R2P has catalysed debate and become remarkably embedded as a feature of International Relations in less than two decades. The early stages of ‘what R2P is’ from the ICISS report in 2001 through to the agreement by all states that they accept their responsibility to protect in 2005 appears linear in hindsight, although it was highly contested at the time (Bellamy 2009; Evans 2008). R2P was then reframed as three pillars by Ban Ki-Moon, which has left a lasting impact on the way R2P is understood. Once there was broad acceptance on ‘what R2P is’, debates followed over what level of support it enjoys from states (for opposing perspectives on this see Gifkins 2016; Hehir 2016). Alongside this there has been extensive debate around whether R2P is a norm, and what type of norm it is. It has been described as a “complex norm” by Jennifer Welsh (2013: 384), by Alex Bellamy as a “collection of norms” (2015: 62), and more recently by Alex Bellamy and Edward Luck as “an established international norm” (2018: 39). Beyond these foundational debates, scholarship on R2P has now shifted to the most critical issue: implementation.

    The deceptively simple goal of R2P – preventing mass atrocity crimes – belies huge complexity around domestic governance, deescalating political disputes, inclusion of diverse groups, and best practices on the roles of local, national, regional, and international bodies. Luckily there is a great new book out by Alex Bellamy and Edward Luck which, ambitiously, addresses all of these challenges (2018). The book is titled ‘The Responsibility to Protect: From Promise to Practice’ and it is essential reading for anyone interested in the implementation of R2P.

  • The Evolution of the International Fact-Finding Missions in Armed Conflicts – From Collecting Facts to Collecting Evidence

    The paper explores the development of the International Fact-Finding Missions from the early Maine inquiry in 1898 to the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Mission established under the Geneva Conventions and leading up to the UN ad-hoc inquiries in Syria and Myanmar with focused accountability mandates. This analysis is done in the background of the corresponding legal framework governing the establishment of these inquiries, with the Hague Conventions for Pacific Settlement of Disputes (1899 and 1907), the Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions and the various UN resolutions establishing the conflict specific and ad-hoc fact-finding missions. The paper also discusses the differences between the mandates of these commissions and the increasing scope and importance that fact-finding inquiries have become to hold. On the basis of this evaluation, the paper concludes that the mandate and goals of these International Fact-Finding Missions have gradually shifted from clarifying and documenting the ‘factual events’ in contention between affected parties to investigating, collecting and preserving ‘evidence’ of international law violations in conflict areas. The role of fact-finding missions has therefore changed to documenting mass atrocities and furthering the efforts for criminal accountability of international crimes. In the process, there are certain problems that these commissions pose such as lack of state consent, lack of a standardised or prescribed standard of proof and donning of a quasi-prosecutorial role in an ad-hoc fashion. In light of this, it is proposed that the UN-Fact finding missions should be regulated through enactment of a set of protocol or rules to govern their mandate, reach and purpose to provide a sound legal basis for their functioning.

  • Why Is Sexual Violence Such an Effective Weapon of War?

    Sexual violence is one of many war crimes that is effectively and strategically committed to achieve war aims; it encompasses many forms of violence and is perpetrated against victims of all genders during both wartime and peacetime.This paper argues that rape is an extremely effective weapon of war because its multidimensional consequences give rape the powerful ability to destroy not only its victims, but to tear apart their families and communities. It will explore how rape becomes a strategic tool to inflict long-term, devastating and debilitating consequences for female victims, for the men socially connected to them, and equally for their communities and future generations. These consequences are facilitated by gendered structural violence and inequality entrenched in patriarchal (male-centred, structured in sexism) societies and their perceptions of female sexuality and male dominance. These pre-existing perceptions and attitudes facilitate the widespread use of sexual violence as both a deliberate strategy of war and as an outcome of economic grievances.

  • How Gendered Experiences Shape Processes and Practices of War and Peace

    This article considers the gendered nature of conflict. It argues that war is not a patriarchal preserve and that gendered experience extends conflict beyond its usual boundaries. Women are shown to be affected by war, as the term is broadly understood, in a variety of ways, although the full extent of female experiences has not yet been assimilated into conflict discourse. It shows that the usual demarcations between war and peace do not reflect gendered experience, and the examples of the Congo and Korea are used to illustrate this point. The value of social constructivism in providing a theoretical framework for gendered experience is war is also considered, with reference to female experiences in World War One. The example of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is examined in even greater detail, particularly in respect to women’s experience of violence, sexual or otherwise, and their unwillingness to discuss it. Attention is given to the role of peace, which is defined not as the absence of war, but as the absence of insecurity and other forms of violence not usually associated with traditional conflict. The role of gendered experience in shaping peace processes is also considered, especially women’s participation is peace-building and the secure establishment of peace after conflict. It is suggested that many more connections need to be made if gendered experiences in the narratives of war are to be fully appreciated. The importance of avoiding stereotypes is made apparent.

  • A Critical Analysis of the Strengths and Limitations of the Responsibility to Protect in the Central African Republic Between 2013-2017

    This paper will discuss the material implications of the UN Responsibility to Protect in the Central African Republic (CAR), a country which since March 2013 has seen ongoing internal conflict. The paper concentrates on the international community’s response to mass atrocities in CAR from 2013 until 2017. The evocation of R2P as a response to the situation on the ground in CAR has resulted in consensual intervention by the EU and UN. This essay will focus on three dimensions of the R2P norm: its shift from a Westphalian to a liberal interpretation of sovereignty, its nature as a tool that is ultimately driven by international political will, and the role of R2P to facilitate support between the international community and the state’s governing body. The paper will use these three facets to evaluate the success of R2P in CAR and concludes that the limitations of the UN norm outweigh its strengths as a tool to prevent and protect mass atrocity crimes.

  • The Responsibility to Protect, An Established Norm in International Relations? Misapplication in Myanmar, Application in Libya and Non-Application in Syria

    R2P is often described as a ‘norm’, but there is considerable disagreement about what kind of norm it constitutes. This paper analyses the normative status of R2P and suggests that the contestation and inconsistency that continue to plague R2P make it difficult to argue that it is an established norm in international relations, as this implies a degree of stability and permanency. However, the paper also challenges the idea that international norms can ever become established in this way, as this is based on a false expectation of linear normative development. It suggests that instead of progressing in a unidirectional way towards universal establishment, norms are never stable and are constant ‘works-in-progress’ that are continually contested and transformed through practice and by a range of actors. The paper uses the examples of R2P’s misapplication in Myanmar in 2008, controversial application in Libya in 2011 and non-application in Syria since 2011 to demonstrate this. These examples highlight how contestation surrounding R2P has led to valuable feedback in the form of initiatives such as Responsible Protection, Responsibility While Protecting, The Responsibility Not to Veto and the Uniting for Peace Resolution. The engagement of a wide range of global actors in challenging and transforming R2P through these initiatives is ultimately beneficial for the legitimacy and the evolution of the norm.

  • Examining the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Through a Critical Analysis of Norm Theory

    The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ norm has received significant academic attention since it was adopted in 2005. Recent crises have put the norm into practice, leading scholars to question certain aspects, criticising its ambiguous nature. These academic criticisms have attempted to categorise this new norm, resulting in claims that R2P is not an established norm. This paper argues that norm theory is a process, whereby discussions and fluctuations actually improve the implementation of a norm. Distancing itself from the unattainable expectations scholars place on norms, this paper argues that R2P is established and calls for a reconsideration of the norm model to allow for greater flexibility and thus ensuring greater success for international norms.

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