International Law, the ‘Requirement to Protect (R2P)...

International Law, the ‘Requirement to Protect (R2P)’ and the Rule of Law

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Tom Bingham in his book entitled ‘The Rule of Law’ made an argument that Human Rights and Humanitarian Law deserved a special place as a fundamental pillar of the Rule of Law. Some parties believe that the Diceyan concept of the Rule of Law should not be augmented with a dramatically different set of rules that are not technically part of the UK’s legislative structure. This is not something with which I personally agree, I believe that positive rights conferred by international treaties are vital to maintaining a cohesive rule of law in an increasingly international world. I do believe, however, that humanitarian work belongs in a rigid framework with strong accountability where appropriate.


So where does R2P fit into this? R2P, or the Requirement to Protect is a moral obligation on nations to protect the people of other nations, or their own, from humanitarian abuse. The UN Security Council regulates many of its powers and is capable of vetoing any action by a state against another if any non-invasive procedures remain available. There is therefore a duty on any nation-states that suspect a humanitarian abuse to attempt to rectify this issue without mobilisation of any military force, through, amongst other things, international trade sanctions. So, R2P has some procedural requirements for it to be enforceable but overall it still remains little more than a moral obligation on states to intervene.


This poses problems in situations where the legality of the decision to invade is called into question, such as was the case for the Iraq War. One side would no doubt argue that the decision lay with no-one but Mr Blair to decide if the action was required, others I’m sure would say that there must be a system of accountability for people who abuse the relatively nascent R2P framework.


I am not writing this as a cloak and dagger means of further discrediting Mr Blair’s decision, but rather as an open ended question on whether there should be a more rigid structure in place for a system which can justify the invasion, and therefore violate the sovereignty of another nation state. A fundamental purpose for the existence of bodies such as the UN was to prevent a liberal attitude to invasion and show that there would be consequences for this happening, so the contrast between its purpose and its support of this kind of moral framework leaves questions that will only be answered with time.

The humanitarian in me says, as in cases such as Syria, that the world has a duty to act, but the lawyer in me has to ask where the legitimacy of this invasion of the states sovereignty is sanctified.

I would be fascinated to hear what better qualified, and more intelligent people think of this argument, and I hope that they will speak up on the matter in due course.

One thought on “International Law, the ‘Requirement to Protect (R2P)’ and the Rule of Law

  • I agree with what has been said so far above, however, when Iraq was invaded, I fully understood the reasons for Tony Blair’s decision to do so. I am not saying I agree with it, but we need to think about the consequences if he didn’t invade. This is something we will never fully appreciate, not being in Tony Blair’s difficult position to protect his own people in the UK. The point is whether we place those in our own country above those in another, all are humans and deserve life. So whether right or wrong or whether justifiable or not, I do not believe Mr Blaire decided alone, but took responsibility for the decision.

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