"No one is showing any responsibility in Syria"

31 Oct 2016

The United Nations approved in 2005 the doctrine Responsibility to Protect, with the aim of protecting civilians in the case of conflicts that put their lives at risk. Why isn't it being applied in Syria?

STI Experts

Is there any way to demand of the international community greater implication in the war in Syria? Perhaps there is. STI Expert Michael Ignatieff participated in an analysis of the conflict, and in particular of the UN doctrine called Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This program, formalized in 2005, was devised to protect humanity from atrocities like the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

“Syria is a case that's begging for 'responsibility to protect' and no one is showing any responsibility whatever,” asserts Ignatieff in a short (9 minute) documentary by Liz Mermin for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In the film, Ignatieff and two other public intellectuals with experience in humanitarian intervention, Ghassan Salame, and Paddy Ashdown, explain the doctrine and its raison d'etre.

Ignatieff defines R2P as "the doctrine that if a state ca't protect or won't protect its own civilians, other states have an obligation to do so."  He explains that this is not achieved only through military intervention, but that the international community can bring to bear many other methods, like mediation and prevention.  

Is the international community acting responsibly in the case of Syria?  Is it protecting civilians, as it committed to do under the doctrine Responsibility to Protect?  Is this UN Program still viable?


Michael Ignatieff is Senior Resident of the University of Toronto’s Massey College, where he teaches courses in law and political science for the Munk School of Global Affairs, the School of Public Policy and Governance, and the Faculty of Law.

He participated in the Experts Meeting Globalization and the Common Good in April 2012.