Taking International Law at Its Word and Its Spirit: Re-Envisioning Responsibility to Protect as a Binding Principle of International Law




Florida State University Law Review



Sovereignty rests at the core of debates over the validity of humanitarian intervention in situations of grave crisis and loss of life. All too frequently, opponents of sovereignty use the concept to halt international action aimed at stopping or lessening human suffering in a sovereign state. Sovereignty as a blockade, however, is an incomplete understanding of the doctrine. While sovereignty protects the right of a nation to exist and govern itself, proponents of the Responsibility to Protect (hereinafter RTP) as a norm of international law recognize that sovereignty entails the responsibility to protect populations from human rights abuses. Finding its grounding in multiple international treaties and the concept of sovereignty itself, the RTP doctrine makes strides in overcoming the non-intervention norm. As a non-binding norm, however, RTP cannot overcome a second common block to intervention: lack of political will. To ensure international action will proceed in the face of grave human rights abuses, scholars and proponents of RTP must better delimit the doctrine and transition RTP to a binding principle of international law, as well as advocate for reform of the U.N. Security Council veto power.

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