ECR2P Event In Cooperation With The ‘Security, Conflict & Justice’ Pathway Of The White Rose Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership.

The ‘Responsibility to Protect’: Interdisciplinary perspectives and future directions for research

Date & Time: Wednesday 6 June 2018, 2pm – 4pm

Venue: Seminar room 14.33, Social Sciences Building, University of Leeds

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) agreement was unanimously endorsed by United Nations member states in 2005 as a commitment to protect people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. The principle commits states not only to the protection of their own populations – something already deeply embedded in international human rights law – but also to the populations of other states, most importantly through international assistance or action when states are manifestly failing to provide protection. However, the operationalization of R2P has been deeply controversial. This seminar will explore cutting-edge perspectives on R2P from different disciplinary perspectives, based upon the final doctoral research results of three PhD students who are White Rose DTC network award holders, supervised by cross-institutional teams in Leeds, Sheffield and York. The event will also feature researchers attached to the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, based at the University of Leeds, who will consider future directions for R2P research.

The main presentations will be:

  • Chloë Gilgan, Centre for Applied Human Rights, Research Centre for the Social Sciences, University of York: ‘The UK’s commitment to the Responsibility to Protect norm and its resettlement policies on Syrian refugees fleeing mass atrocities’.
  • Samuel Jarvis, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield: ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the Limits to Moral Progress: Assessing ‘Common Humanity’ as a Driver of State Behaviour’.
  • Daniel Wand, School of Politics and International studies, University of Leeds: ‘The International Criminal Court and the BRICS States: Solidarist Progress and Pluralist Limits in a Changing International Society’.
  • Commentary by European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect staff.


The UK’s commitment to the Responsibility to Protect norm and its resettlement policies on Syrian refugees fleeing mass atrocities – Chloë Gilgan

This presentation considers how powerful liberal states that support R2P, like the UK, are using the resettlement of refugees to partly fulfil their responsibility to protect Syrians from mass atrocities. While academics and R2P advocates presume a link between R2P and resettlement, the research revealed three important outcomes.  First, the notion that resettlement is automatically linked to R2P presents unavoidable conceptual gaps that have not been addressed in the literature.  Second, regardless of the aspirational R2P arguments for providing resettlement as R2P protection, liberal humanitarian states like the UK have not made the link on a practical level.  As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the International Syria Support Group, the UK is a key player in the international effort to address the Syrian crisis. The research disaggregated the UK’s discursive and practical understanding of what it means to discharge its responsibility to protect Syrians from mass atrocities in the context of resettlement across some of the relevant agencies that comprise the UK government.  The findings stem from the interpretative analysis of two primary sources: Official documents and interviews from parliament, the FCO, the Home Office and DFID.  The research revealed that misconceptions around R2P, especially its conflation with military intervention, have not only prevented consensus on the UN Security Council but have resulted in the UK’s failure to link R2P to existing national responses that would fit within R2P’s remit of using ‘diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means’ to help protect Syrians from mass atrocities.  This is due to the relevant agencies in the UK possessing different understandings of what constitutes R2P implementation.  Thus, the research is highly relevant for evaluating the normative force of R2P when a state’s usual or preferred responses are impossible, and the crisis persists.  Finally, the third outcome of the research revealed that civil society does not use R2P as leverage when advocating to states for increased resettlement for several reasons that will also influence R2P’s norm status.

The Responsibility to Protect and the Limits to Moral Progress: Assessing ‘Common Humanity’ as a Driver of State Behaviour’ – Samuel Jarvis

The philosophical and moral foundations of humanity’s relationship to the Responsibility to Protect have for a long time remained a largely overlooked element of the R2P literature. Whilst more recent scholarship has attempted to close this theoretical gap, it has most often focused on humanity as a moral benchmark in which to measure the current progress of the R2P against. However, what still remains highly contested is the extent to which humanity can in fact provide the significant normative weight and metaphysical heavy lifting for such moral arguments. In response to this lacuna, the thesis focuses on two central questions. Firstly, does the concept of humanity provide a sufficient justification for why states should have a moral responsibility to protect those threatened by mass atrocity crimes? Secondly, to what extent can humanity function as a motivational force able to mobilise states in support of the R2P principle? In addressing these two questions, the thesis provides a more comprehensive understanding of humanity through locating its significant dual function, thus reinforcing the critical role humanity plays in underpinning the moral foundations of the central R2P crimes, as well as challenging the extent to which humanity can also motivate states to act on its behalf. In this sense, the concept of humanity can be best understood as a motivational factor that diminishes in influence as the R2P principle is diffused into action. The thesis therefore provides the foundations for a more intuitive understanding of the complex motivational factors involved in generating collective responses to the threat of mass atrocity crimes. In doing so, it is argued that the ability to fundamentally address the current R2P implementation gap will require an approach that is more reflective of the way humanity interacts with competing moral, legal and political pressures at the global level.

Solidarist Progress and Pluralist Limits in a Changing International Society – Daniel Wand

This research project examines the relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the BRICS States using an English School approach. The purpose of the project is twofold. First, it provides an original, comprehensive understanding of the views of the BRICS on the nature and operation of the world’s first permanent international criminal court, and how their interactions with it have affected the institution. Second, the project addresses the broader issue of the sustainability of liberal international society in the context of the progressive decline of the West and the rise of emerging powers, and using the ICC/BRICS data it advances an original understanding of how rising powers view global governance.

It was found, quite surprisingly, that the BRICS are generally supportive of the ICC and its work, which is consistent with their longstanding support for international criminal justice,  but only to the extent that the Court does not seriously challenge the fundamental primary institutions of international society (i.e. sovereignty, diplomacy, multilateralism) or prevent pragmatic, state-based responses to transitional justice where they are most appropriate. It is thus established that the BRICS states support and have advanced cosmopolitan progress in the form of international criminal justice in international society but have pushed back against it where they have been required to defend a pluralist approach to global governance. It therefore be surmised that the issue for the BRICS is not cosmopolitan moral progress but how it is implemented. We are therefore unlikely to see any revolutionary change in international society but, if the balance of power continues to shift, the progression towards a world society understanding of global political order is likely to be halted and reversed in favour of a more pluralist conception.