Reexamining the Concept of Responsibility to Protect in Light of the Mass Atrocities in Myanmar

Despite significant achievements in the international human rights regime, millions of civilians still fall victim to unimaginable atrocities that continue to shock the conscience of humanity and threaten international peace and security. Mass murders of national, ethnic, and religious groups have continued with depressing frequency — most recently in Myanmar, where violence broke out again in late August 2017, after security forces launched an operation against Rohingya Muslims. There were more than 1,000 fatalities, and 800,000 civilians were forced to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. The international community has failed to prevent gross and systematic atrocities, and the vow of “never again” risks becoming an empty promise. The question remains: when, if ever, it is appropriate for the international community to take coercive actions against a sovereign state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that state? The challenge is the legal reconciliation of the two main jus cogens principles of international law – state sovereignty, and the need to protect the fundamental human rights of populations at risk from their own governments. The answer lies within the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), and this article examines R2P through an analysis of the role of state responsibility as it relates to national sovereignty in the light of mass atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Authors: Najiba Mustafayeva
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