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The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty


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The international community faces no more critical issue currently than how to protect people caught in new and large-scale humanitarian crises — humanitarian intervention has been controversial both when it has happened, as in Kosovo, and when it has failed to happen, as in Rwanda. While there is general agreement internationally that we should not stand by in the face of massive violations of human rights, respect for the sovereign rights of states maintains a central place among the principles governing relations between states.

In his Millennium Report to the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the international community to address the real dilemmas posed by intervention and sovereignty. The independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was established by the Canadian government in September 2000 to respond to that challenge.

After a year of intense worldwide consultations and debate, the Commission now presents this path-breaking report. With its central theme of the “responsibility to protect,” the report underlines the primary responsibility of sovereign states to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe — from mass murder, from large scale loss of life and rape, from starvation. But when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states — there must be no more Rwandas or Srebrenicas.

The Commission has also produced a supplementary volume of research, written by Thomas G. Weiss and Don Hubert with input from an outstanding group of international specialists. This volume represents a comprehensive, balanced and up-to-date summary of the key political, ethical, legal, and operational issues and will be of particular interest to scholars. It also contains an exhaustive, thematic bibliography.

The Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty comes with a CD-ROM, containing downloadable versions of the Report, the research essays from the supplementary volume, and an electronic, searchable version of the bibliography.

ICISS Commissioners

Gareth Evans (co-chair, Australia), President of the International Crisis Group, Brussels, and former Australian Foreign Minister (1988–1996).

Mohamed Sahnoun (co-chair, Algeria), Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Somalia and the Great Lakes of Africa.

Gisèle Côté-Harper (Canada), Barrister and Professor of Law, Laval University, Québec. Former Chair of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development and Member of the UN Human Rights Commission.

Lee Hamilton (USA), Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC and former US Member of Congress (1965–1999), where he served as Chairman of the Committee on International Relations.

Michael Ignatieff (Canada), Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Journalist and historian.

Vladimir Lukin (Russia), Deputy head of the Yabloko faction, former Chair of the International Affairs Committee in the Russian Duma and Russian Ambassador to the USA (1992–1994).

Klaus Naumann (Germany), former Chair of NATO’s Military Committee (1996–1999) and former Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces (1991–1996).

Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa), Executive Director of the Molope Group and Member of the Board of Directors of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa. Former Secretary-General of the African National Congress and Member of the South African Parliament.

Fidel Ramos (Philippines), President of the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation and former President of the Philippines (1992–1998).

Cornelio Sommaruga (Switzerland), President of the Caux Foundation for Moral Rearmament, former President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1987-1999) and Switzerland’s State Secretary for External Economic Affairs.

Eduardo Stein (Guatemala), international consultant with UNDP Panama. Former Foreign Minister of Guatemala (1996–2000), Executive Secretary of the Action Committee for Support to the Economic and Social Development and Central America and Head of the OAS Observer Missions to Peru’s 2000 and 2001 general elections.

Ramesh Thakur (India), Vice-Rector of the UN University, Tokyo, and former head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra.