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Responsibility to Protect in Asian Context: An International Meeting at JICA-RI

February 21, 2011

Imagine you are a farmer living at an extremely impoverished village. You work hard to feed a family of 10 as the head of the house but your effort seems futile. With no heat, no electricity and little food, winter survivable at a dilapidated wooden shack is brutal. The government is no help as the state leader is busy milking the country to satisfy his greed. Thousands of people took to the streets for a pro-democracy demonstration a few years back, only to be crushed severely. One by one, neighbors starve to death, and in despair, you wonder if anyone, in any place in the world, cares about your life... 


In fact, the world DOES care. The United Nations has been committed to promoting human rights as well as maintaining international peace and security since 1945. In case of a situation of a degree that calls for international attention and possibly intervention, the UN Security Council, after scrutinizing the case, takes measures, from establishing a peacekeeping operation, imposing sanction, and to authorizing a military action. Yet, after the international community confronted failures to react to horrendous atrocities like the Rwandan civil war and the Bosnian war in the 1990s, a new discussion materialized to shift the focus of security policies from states to individual people. The newly-emerged norm is known as the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), which basically signifies that a state has a responsibility to protect its own people from four types of atrocities; genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, while the international community also has a responsibility to assist the state, and protect its people when the state fails to fulfill its duty. First introduced by a Canadian research institute in 2001, RtoP has stirred much controversy due to its sensitive nature, especially on intervention by the international community to domestic issues. The debate is ongoing. In Asia, the situation can be as serious as anywhere, as neighboring countries exist interdependently and insecurity in one area can lead to insecurity across the whole region.

JICA-RI has been working with ASEAN Institute of Strategic and International Studies for a research on mainstreaming human security in ASEAN Integration, and on January 26, hosted a dissemination meeting and policy roundtable focusing on RtoP, in Tokyo. The event was co-organized with the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS) of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where JICA-RI research collaborator Associate Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony leads a study group. Over 50 experts, officials from international organizations such as UNHCR and governments, and general public gathered to discuss how to advance and operationalize RtoP in the region. 

After opening with remarks by JICA-RI Director Keiichi Tsunekawa, and Associate Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony of NTS, and a keynote speech by former UN Assistant Secretary General Professor Ramesh Thakur, the meeting moved ahead to five sessions: 1: RtoP in Asia - Conceptual Issues and Challenges; 2: Operationalising the RtoP - Regional Mechanisms; 3: Country Perspectives on RtoP in Southeast Asia; 4: Country Perspectives on RtoP in Northeast Asia; and 5: Ways Forward in Advancing the RtoP in Asia. Researchers from various Asian regions including Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and China presented their insightful findings.  

The RtoP concept received official endorsement in the Outcome Document of the UN World Summit in September 2005 when about 150 member states publicly showed their commitment to the norm. In January 2009, the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon published a report titled "Implementing the Responsibility to Protect" to express his determination to move the doctrine into practice. It also set the outline of its strategies as:

Pillar I: Primary responsibilities of the State;

Pillar II: International assistance in capacity-building; and

Pillar III: Responsibility of international community for timely and decisive action. 

Assoc. Prof. Mely Caballero-Anthony
In Asia within the framework of ASEAN, most of whose member countries suffered colonial rule, there exists a sentiment of profound reservation about Pillar III as it could allow a use of force and work against its non-interference principle.

Through the meeting at JICA-RI, it became apparent that, though the understanding of the norm is deepening, responses from Asian countries vary, depending on their situations. As the last session briefed on diverse challenges ASEAN faces in moving the discussion forward, it revealed that the concept requires more time before gaining a mainstream position in human security policies in Asia. Assoc. Prof. Caballero-Anthony admits it's at a "baby stage," but emphasizes its importance. "Whatever the cases may be, [with RtoP] states will have a potential to avert the conditions before they deteriorate. When you deal with these issues, you need a concerted global effort to address them."

Most likely it would take tremendous effort, wisdom and cooperation of all parties before RtoP is put into practice, but Prof. Thakur says, "The choice of postponing the difficult issues is accepting that more and more people will be killed. Good news is that mass atrocities actually happen very rarely, but I hope we don't use the rarity of these occurrences as an excuse to go into denial [of possibilities of future atrocities]."

Related Research Area: Peace and Development

Related Research Project: Mainstreaming Human Security in ASEAN Integration


Jun Honna, JICA-RI Visiting Fellow
Mery Caballero-Anthony, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Associate Professor

DayJanuary 26, 2011(Wed)
PlaceJICA Research Institute
OrganizerJICA Research Institute

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