…[T]he founders of the United Nations understood that sovereignty confers responsibility, a responsibility to ensure protection of human beings from want, from war, and from repression.
When that responsibility is not discharged, the international community is morally obliged to consider its duty to act in the service of human protection.
The last decade of the twentieth century saw unprecedented progress in international law, humanitarian law and the establishment of international legal institutions. There also was increased acceptance of international norms by Member States, at least in principle.
These steps led to important human protection advances in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit.
The Heads of State and Government embraced a responsibility to protect. You might have heard of “R2P,” the responsibility to protect – protecting populations by preventing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
The Responsibility to Protect has undergone further doctrinal elaboration and institutional expression over the last five years.
When I was campaigning to become Secretary-General, I pledged that if and when I was elected as Secretary-General, I would do my best to operationalize it. This is what I have been doing for that last four years.
There are some states that are still feeling uncomfortable and who have skepticism of the concept of “R2P,” whether this is going to be used as a tool by the big powers to interfere in their domestic politics.
However, my doctrine envisages that our efforts to prevent these awful crimes rest on three pillars: first, state responsibility, first of all, the State should be responsible second, international responsibility to help states to succeed and third, timely and decisive response should national authorities manifestly fail to protect, including under Chapter VII, if the Security Council deems such steps necessary.
(excerpts from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Cyril Foster Lecture 2011 on “Human Protection and the 21st Century United Nations” delivered at Oxford University on Feb. 2)