In response, in December 2013 Secretary-General Ban launched “Rights Up Front,” an initiative aimed at retraining U.N. staff and encouraging a culture of action. Dieng, the U.N. special adviser, noted the events that unfolded that same month in South Sudan — where the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission opened U.N. compound doors to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing fighting, instead of barricading them out — as a sign of positive change.
“At the end of the day, when people are facing the risk of genocide and war crimes, they have to be protected,” Dieng said. “It will be a disaster to keep quiet when these situations happen.”
But the same agreement that elevated R2P also made it necessary for the U.N. Security Council to be the sole institution capable of authorizing intervention. Russia, China, the United States, the U.K. and France — the five permanent members of the Security Council — have to agree to either go ahead with a military intervention or stand aside. “This means that the politics of the Security Council are determining now if the Responsibility to Protect is going to kick in,” said Thomas Weiss, professor of political science at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “For Syria, this means paralysis,” he said, referring to the three resolutions on Syria vetoed by Russia and China, allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
And in other crises, it means delay. On Thursday the Security Council authorized a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic, which has been ripped apart by violence between Muslims and Christians. It will take over from a beleaguered group of African Union soldiers, but not until Sept. 15. Some human rights advocates say the council wasted months negotiating the resolution as the country descended into chaos, which Dieng warned in November was at risk of spiraling into genocide.
“This resolution proves that the U.N. has gone a long way since Rwanda on learning how to deal with potential mass atrocities,” said Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, to Al Jazeera. “But also that it has a long way to go in terms of timely reaction. We started calling for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in November, and, had the council listened at the time, peacekeepers would now be able to deploy and make a difference on the ground, rather than be a distant prospect.”