R2P is Unable to Protect the Stateless; It Is Time for the United Nations Security Council to Step Up

Posted on September 22, 2020

By Dimitra Protopsalti and Timothy Lionarons

Dimitra and Timothy are Master’s students at Leiden University in the Netherlands, currently enrolled in the two-year Advanced Master’s programme lnternational Relations and Diplomacy. This Master’s programme is taught in collaboration with the Clingendael lnstitute. @DProtopsalti 

The United Nations (UN), established in 1945 to promote world peace, instated the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2005 to shield humankind from mass atrocities. However, the shortcomings of R2P are a product of its exclusionary nature. The UN, and subsequently the R2P, fail to protect an approximated 10 million of the world population: the stateless. R2P’s reliance on the states’ notion of citizenship has revealed a weakness in protecting the stateless. The Turkish invasion of the Kurdish region of Syria demonstrated exactly how the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was unable to safeguard those most in need. Hence, it is vital that the UNSC broadens the inclusiveness of the R2P in order to protect stateless peoples.

R2P and the Problematic Interpretation of the UNSC

Contrary to humanitarian intervention, R2P places the primary responsibility to protect citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing on the state itself, in accordance with Pillar I. If a state is unable or unwilling to provide this protection, it is encouraged and pressured by the international community through both aid and sanctions (Pillar II). If the aforementioned measures still do not suffice, Pillar III entails the responsibility of the international community to intervene militarily.

When discussing the necessity to intervene in conflict-stricken states, the UNSC tends to refer to and rely heavily on a state’s primary responsibility to protect. All statements and resolutions by members of the UNSC since 2011 have emphasized Pillar I responsibilities and, by extension, have understated Pillars II and III that denote international responsibility. This is because international responsibility can cause infringement of state sovereignty.

However, sovereignty grants independence and inalienable rights that enable a state to determine who is granted citizenship and, by extension, the right to protection. The stateless, by nature, are deprived of citizenship and hence fall between the cracks of protection by both the state in which they reside and the international community.

Left to Their Own Devices: The Kurds, the Rohingya and the Bidoon

The Turkish invasion of Kurdish-occupied North Syria once more underlined the R2P’s inability to protect the stateless. With president Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from the Rojava region, Turkey was given free rein to set up a so-called ‘safe zone’ in Syria. This posed a direct threat to the Kurdish population of the region, yet their cries for help were unheard. The largest stateless population in the world was left subject to the Turkish government – the same government that deems the Kurds and any affiliated political organizations to be terrorists of nature. What ensued was the killing of more than 70 individuals and forced displacement of 300,000 Kurds from the region.

Similarly, the Rohingya, residing in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, have been systematically targeted by the Myanmar government. As a result of R2P’s failure to protect the stateless, many died and thousands were forced to seek refuge in Bangladesh. As of 2017 Bangladesh counts an estimated 900,000 Rohingya refugees.

In Kuwait, the stateless Bidoon population (“bidun jinsiyya”, meaning ‘without nationality’) suffers the same fate as the Kurds and the Rohingya. They, too, are devoid of basic human rights and the protection against crimes as underlined in R2P.

These examples are often accompanied by vocabulary signalling genocide and/or ethnic cleansing. President Trump justified the invasion in North Syria as a process of “cleaning out” the region, whilst the Myanmar government initiated “clearing operations” against the Rohingya. The Rohingya were characterized as “roaches” to be “exterminated” and the Bidoon were deemed “illegal residents” by the Kuwaiti government. History has demonstrated that all too often such language results in atrocity as populations become stripped of their humanity.

Still, R2P fails to include the stateless in its protective framework.

Intervening to Intervene: A More Inclusive R2P

To prevent these conflicts from escalating further and resulting in atrocities which violate R2P principles, the UNSC must take immediate action. Specifically, the UNSC ought to adopt a new resolution which foresees the protection of all individuals within a state, regardless of their (lack of) citizenship. The final responsibility and decision to intervene lies with the UNSC. Yet, the UNSC has the ability to veto proposed R2P interventions and has done so in the past. Thus, it is critical that the UNSC demonstrates its ability to act as a unified actor and that Member States set aside personal interests to protect all of humankind. By adopting a new resolution that includes the responsibility to protect all people residing within the borders of a state, not just those granted citizenship, the UN will be able to prevent the stateless from falling between the cracks of R2P protection by the state and the international community. This enables Turkey-Syria, Myanmar, and Kuwait to be held accountable for their negligence to protect the Kurds, the Rohingya, and the Bidoon, respectively.

If the UNSC decides not to adopt the amendment, the remaining member states of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) should invoke Resolution 377, also known as the ‘Uniting for Peace Resolution’, to proceed to its adoption without the consent of the UNSC. Under the Charter, this resolution allows the UNGA to take collective action in order to protect and maintain international peace and security if the UNSC fails to do so. In this case, it enables the UNGA to protect the stateless.

To reiterate, we have proposed two distinct manners in which a new resolution can be adopted to ensure the inclusion and consequent protection of the stateless, by complementing the existing R2P regime.