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Libya and the Responsibility to Protect: Lessons for the Prevention of Mass Atrocities

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This article identifies three lessons for the prevention of mass atrocity crimes from international prevention efforts in the 2011 Libya crisis. First, Libya suggests that situations of mass atrocity risk will not always be foreseeable. It is therefore crucial to develop more robust, direct, and targeted strategies for dealing with imminent crises. Second, the tools that are usually listed under the Responsibility to Protect's (R2P) third pillar are also critical for preventing mass atrocities in an immediate phase. However, pillar three (the response pillar) is widely absent from the debate, which focuses primarily on pillars one and two. Third, the Libya crisis suggests that "taking sides", abandoning impartiality, and operating without host state consent may be necessary to prevent mass atrocities. This challenges the United Nation's approach to most conflict situations, in which consent and impartiality are key operating principles. Together, these lessons show that preventing mass atrocities might often be more controversial and coercive than is sometimes presumed.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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