Rosenthal: more ways needed to protect people against atrocities

The international community should be more creative and explore steps such as preventive diplomacy, fact-finding missions, mediation and sanctions as ways of protecting civilians.

This was the message of Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal at a ministerial meeting on the Responsibility to Protect he hosted with his Guatemalan counterpart. The term stands for the shared responsibility of states and the international community to protect people against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Those attending the meeting included the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and ministers from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Egypt, Botswana and the United States.

The principle of Responsibility to Protect is based on three pillars: 1) the primary responsibility of a state to protect its own people; 2) support from the international community; and 3) effective response by the international community if a state fails to protect its own people.

Mr Rosenthal emphasised that the Responsibility to Protect should result in military intervention only as a last resort. Fact-finding missions should be used more systematically and at an earlier stage, before conflict breaks out. The Atrocity Prevention Board, which has been set up by the US, is a good example of this. There should be greater use of mediation and preventive diplomacy, particularly by regional organisations. And we need to look into how we can impose and enforce more targeted sanctions against those responsible for atrocities, while sparing the civilian population.