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Myanmar as an “R2P situation”

Mizzima Fri, April 2, 2021

Unarmed, people in Myanmar are facing state-organised violence from a military leader whose on-going persecution of the Rohingya now has Myanmar before the International Court of Justice charged with genocide.  
As Tatmadaw generals controlling the government apparatus not only fail to protect them but are the very perpetrators of the violence, people are urging, the international community to take responsibility to protect unarmed civilian protestors. Specifically, they call on the international community to take effective action on the basis of the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) adopted at the 2005 United Nation World Summit.   
This call is being made and received with some confusion, doubt and inertia. This article aims to provide basic information on what R2P is, what can be expected from it and what action can and has been taken and by who. 
To dispel doubt in the minds of who make up the international community, Gareth Evans, a co-author of the R2P, wrote this week, ‘the present crisis in Myanmar demands unequivocally to be treated as an R2P one.’ He sees timely R2P responses are critical to Myanmar now as there were in the early stages of the one-sided repression of peaceful dissent in Libya and Syria.  
One point to make clear from the beginning – as this is a source of both unrealistic expectation and resistance – R2P is not equivalent to triggering United Nations Security Council sanctioned military intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  
Evans stressed this point upfront. ‘External military intervention, even if China or Russia could be persuaded not to veto it, is not a credible option – in terms both of availability of willing interveners, and relevant prudential criteria.’  
As discussed below, R2P is a deeper and more complex framework for taking action by many diverse and interconnected players. As Evans explains, ‘the rest of the R2P reaction toolbox certainly should be [enacted], including not only more naming and shaming, but UN-endorsed targeted sanctions, embargoes, and threats of ICC prosecution. 
What is R2P? 
R2P has been called many things including a concept, idea, principle of international law, doctrine of international law, international norm and a framework for action. As a call for protection from citizens under fire, R2P relevant in two main ways: as a principle of international law and as a framework – with a set of tools – for global and international political and legal action.  
The Principle of R2P 
R2P is a general principle in international law that sovereign states have the responsibility to protect all people within their territory from atrocity crimes and that if a state is unable or unwilling to do so, the international community has the responsibility to provide that protection.  
Crucially, R2P is not a law or mechanism which clearly outlines a mandate and procedures for implementation. Rather, as a general principle it is an articulation of a fundamental truth or value that is part of the foundation of the belief about that sovereignty means today and the basis for acting accordingly.  
The R2P principle, therefore, is an essential part of the larger principle of sovereignty. As such it is directly connected to – and sits in tension with – the other more dominant foundational principle of sovereignty: non-interference.     
The arrival of R2P into international relations thinking in the 2000s is significant because introduced a new way of understanding state sovereignty that could paths to overcoming hard obstacles to protecting civilians from atrocity crimes. Traditionally, sovereignty was considered a state’s right to full control over everything within its territorial borders. Thus, it had the right to non-interference. As such humanitarian intervention was seen as a direct violation of the principle of non-interference and difficult to get states to agree to do.  
R2P requires states to recognise that they not only have sovereign rights but sovereign responsibility, including the responsibility to protect – specifically to protect people within their territory.  
Moreover, if they do not perform their responsibility to protect, then the responsibility to protect does not stop – it moves to the international community.   
R2P rests on three mutually reinforcing principles. The Global Centre of The Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) summarises these accordingly.  
Pillar One says that every state ‘every state has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.’  
Pillar Two says the ‘wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility.’  
Pillar Three, ‘if a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter.’ 
R2P does not relate to all forms of humanitarian crisis but in particular to ‘crimes of atrocity’. There are four specific types of atrocity crimes it refers to: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The reason for the narrow definition is that if it related to all humanitarian disasters, it would be too difficult to invoke.  
The Significance of R2P   
R2P has significantly shifted the focus of international humanitarian responses from ‘intervention’ to ‘protection.’ Intervention is traditionally understood as – no matter the justification – as a contravention of the principle of non-interference and, therefore, of state sovereignty. Intervention, therefore, is totally unacceptable to many states making responding to atrocity crimes very difficult.  
By emphasising the responsibility dimension of sovereignty, R2P expresses a fuller understanding of sovereignty – one which also contains responsibility to protect. When 150 states accepted the R2P in the 2005 World Summit they agreed to the need to keep the responsibility to protect and right to non-interference in balance rather than pitting one absolutely against the other. While still very difficult, R2P opens more options for international community response to atrocity crimes that are consistent with their understanding of state sovereignty.  
Criteria for Action on the basis of R2P: Crimes Against Humanity 
On 11 March, Tom Andrews, the United Nations’ Special Envoy on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, reported that the accumulating actions of Min Aung Hlaing’s regime are now likely to amount to crime against humanity if tried in an international court. 
On 17 March, Nicholas Koumjian, the Head of the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar announced it was collecting evidence of human rights violations committed against those peacefully opposing the coup.

SOURCE – Mizzima, Myanmar Fri, April 2, 2021

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