Losing the Utility of the Responsibility to Prevent: The confines of international law and focus on genocide prevention

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The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm has spawned a lot academic literature since its formulation in 2001. The focus of these has mainly been on the responsibility to react, the second of the tri-partite continuum that makes up the R2P norm. This is undoubtedly due to the controversial nature associated with military action. This preoccupation ignores the importance of the initial step of R2P – the responsibility to prevent. This is compounded by the fact that presently prevention is mostly focused on the prevention of genocide. This is problematic because state practice in relation to the prevention of genocide usually is to
ensure that genocide is occurring before prevention begins. This detracts from R2P’s equal theoretical treatment of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing – vastly different crimes. It is my contention that the present level and nature of focus on prevention in international law would undermine the utility of R2P as an instrument to be used by the international community. An individual state’s compliance with R2P within its borders is easy to evaluate; it is in the extra-territorial exercise of R2P that problems arise.
This article aims to examine the responsibility to prevent by dissecting the component crimes of R2P and their prevention, examining prevention through the overarching lens of disciplines in international law and the various practicalities that impede prevention. The inclusion of the prevention gross human rights violations in the ambit of R2P is examined as an answer to the difficulties addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191- 203
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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