Norms and the Responsibility to Protect

Tasneem Jamal

In December 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) released its report entitled The Responsibility to Protect. Since its release, the report has generated mixed reactions. Critics point to its lack of clear or concrete guidelines and claim the document provides a legitimate platform upon which stronger states can intervene in the affairs of smaller, weaker states. Proponents applaud the document’s emphasis on sovereignty as responsibility, arguing that it provides a rules-based framework to limit the situations in which strong states may intervene.

The issue of intervention is not amenable to a broad consensus or an easy solution. Rather, to advance the idea of intervention for protection purposes, it is necessary to evaluate current assumption relating to sovereignty and develop new norms in favour of protection.

Academic literature suggests norms generally evolve in one of three ways: they are imposed, willingly obeyed, or internalized. States are crucial in the norm building process, but civil society also plays an important role. It is often actors in civil society who promote a norm through various forms of persuasion until it is adopted by a state, which is then able to impose it in their jurisdiction.

Toward that end, Project Ploughshares organized a session to explore the idea of norm development and its relationship with The Responsibility to Protect. This report covers the ideas presented during that session, beginning with a conceptual framework for understanding norms and ending with several suggested ideas for further discussions.

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