The Syrian Kurdish city Kobani has been besieged by ISIS for more than four weeks. About 300,000 people have fled the city into Turkey. However, some people have stayed there, at great danger to themselves. ISIS has captured a strategic hill close by and is using it to launch rockets and heavy artillery on the city.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has failed to put an end to the crisis in Syria, which has spread to Iraq and other neighbouring countries. Who is going to put an end to what academics call a ‘complex crisis’ that is destabilizing international peace and security? Who is going to stop ISIS from beheading Kobani’s civilians? Who is going to stop ISIS from selling the women and the children of Kobani at ISIS’s slave markets, like the ones they have set up in other cities they captured? As detailed in this report.
The Syrian government, and its allies Iran and Russia, are not taking their responsibility to protect the people of Kobani, and perhaps the Syrian government is unable or even unwilling to protect its population. So who is going to protect civilians who are facing such imminent danger?
The concept of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ – which has been branded with a snappy acronym R2P – evolved in the 1990s. For instance, NATO intervened in the former Yugoslavia in order to protect the Muslim minority from the Serbs. In 2005, the doctrine was adopted by the UN General Assembly. It states that each individual state has the responsibility to protect its population. If a state is not able to do so, other states should help. Another UN General Assembly resolution was also adopted in 2009 and reaffirmed this responsibility.
Later in 2011, NATO intervened in Libya to protect the civilians of Benghazi and other cities from the atrocities of Gaddafi’s militias and mercenaries. The Security Council also acted under Chapter VII and reaffirmed the R2P doctrine in its resolution.
Let’s not forget that the UNSC is the only executive organ that can authorize the ‘use of force’ under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
However, the evolving doctrine of the ‘responsibility to protect’ depends more on moral than legal justification, and there hasn’t been enough time yet to consider this doctrine as a ‘binding legal principle of law’.
The doctrine is based on the following: when there are gross violations of universal human values, the international community should act promptly, either by helping or intervening to stop such violations.
Since 2011, Russia and China have used their veto powers at the UNSC three times to stop Western attempts to resolve the crisis in Syria. The current air raids by the U.S. and its Arab allies on ISIS without a mandate from the UNSC or in coordination with the Syrian government have failed, so far, to weaken ISIS.
There are inherent dangers and contradictions in the evolving R2P doctrine – who uses it, when, how. All are very important factors for this new doctrine to become a useful element for states to apply in times of the greatest need. One major question is: will it really ever be possible to make this doctrine work in accordance with the UN Charter?
Other questions: are we going in the near future to see boots on the ground under the evolving doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’? And is the US just using ISIS as an excuse to intervene – as it has always wanted to – in order to, eventually, engineer regime change in Damascus? Is ISIS in fact just a stalking horse for the US and its Arab allies? Is R2P just being used as an excuse to mask intervention?
When faced with a humanitarian tragedy such as we see unfolding daily in Kobani (and other Syrian cities), all of us want action. But, this evolving doctrine of R2P and how the great world powers use it require caution, analysis and enquiry into who is using this new idea to intervene and why – before we automatically jump on its bandwagon.
Hassan Bleibel is a cartoonist for Cartoon Movement.