Over the past several decades, the central focus of international law has shifted from protecting only sovereign states to protecting individuals. Still, the worst imaginable human rights violations—genocides, ethnic cleansings, crimes against humanity, and systemic war crimes—occur with alarming frequency. And the international response is often slow or ineffectual. The most recent development for addressing this problem is the “responsibility to protect,” an idea that has received so much attention that it now goes simply by R2P. Almost all heads of state have endorsed R2P. The U.N. Secretary General has made R2P a top priority and issued multiple reports on the topic. The U.N. Security Council has recognized R2P in both thematic and case-specific resolutions. Civil society groups have invoked R2P to demand action in places like Libya and Syria. And the scholarly literature on R2P—in law, philosophy, and international relations—has mushroomed. Yet for all this attention, R2P’s contribution to international law or to the ultimate goal of protecting people from atrocities is uncertain. R2P stands for two basic propositions. First, each state must protect its population from atrocities. This proposition is well established in international law, but experience demonstrates that states sometimes fail their own populations. R2P’s key innovation is its second proposition: that the broader international community should step in, when necessary, to help at-risk populations. Unlike the first proposition, the second is widely understood not to be legally operative. And the extent to which it otherwise influences outside states is, at best, speculative and contested.
Hakimi, Monica. "Toward a Legal Theory on the Responsibility to Protect." Yale J. Int'l L. 39, no. 2 (2014): 247-80.