Ethics & International Affairs

Roundtable: Libya, RtoP, and Humanitarian Intervention

Libya and the Responsibility to Protect: The Exception and the Norm

Alex J. Bellamy*

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) played an important role in shaping the world's response to actual and threatened atrocities in Libya. Not least, the adoption of Resolution 1973 by the UN Security Council on May 17, 2011, approving a no-fly zone over Libya and calling for “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, reflected a change in the Council's attitude toward the use of force for human protection purposes; and the role played by the UN's new Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect points toward the potential for this new capacity to identify threats of mass atrocities and to focus the UN's attention on preventing them. Given the reluctance of both the Security Council and the wider UN membership even to discuss RtoP in the years immediately following the 2005 World Summit—the High-level Plenary Meeting of the 60th Session of the General Assembly that gave birth to RtoP—these two facts suggest that significant progress has been made thanks to the astute stewardship of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is personally committed to the principle. Where it was once a term of art employed by a handful of like-minded countries, activists, and scholars, but regarded with suspicion by much of the rest of the world, RtoP has become a commonly accepted frame of reference for preventing and responding to mass atrocities.

(Online publication August 12 2011)

Alex J. Bellamy is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland. His books include Kosovo and International Society (2002), Security Communities and Their Neighbours: Regional Fortresses or Global Integrators? (2004), Understanding Peacekeeping (edited with Paul D. Williams and Stuart Griffin, 2004), International Society and Its Critics (editor, 2004), Just Wars: From Cicero to Iraq (2006), Fighting Terror: Ethical Dilemmas (2008), and Responsibility to Protect (2009). He serves on the editorial board of Ethics & International Affairs. a.bellamy@griffith.edu.au

Footnotes

* Thanks to Sara E. Davies, Edward C. Luck, and Paul D. Williams for advice and helpful comments on an earlier draft.

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