At the 2005 World Summit, heads of state and government unanimously adopted the Responsibility to Protect in order to populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  The Security Council reaffirmed the principle in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006).

For a comprehensive understanding of the principle, see Deborah Mayersen’s “The Responsibility to Prevent: Opportunities, Challenges and Strategies for Operationalisation,” which looks at the implementation and strategies behind the Responsibility to Protect, including specific tools the international community can consider, like no-fly zones, peace-keeping missions, and opening borders. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty has also released a report titled “The Responsibility to Protect,” which assesses the responsibility to protect, prevent, react and rebuild.

The Libyan regime’s attacks on its own civilian population are a test case for the international community’s commitment to the Responsibility to Protect principle.  The Security Council’s press statement on Libya on February 22 refers to the concept as the Council “called on the Government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population.” The Security Council has also passed a unanimous resolution implementing sanctions against Libya, as reported by the BBC. They backed an arms embargo and asset freeze while referring Col. Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Foreign Policy World Journal published an article by by Javad Heydarian on “Mainstreaming R2P in the Middle East: Opportunities and Challenges.” Heydarian notes the volunteeristic nature of implementing R2P and how it is “contingent on the ‘political will’ of those who wish to adopt it.” He especially notes how Libya will be a test for the international community and its commitment to protecting population from mass atrocities.

Foreign Policy further published an article by Josh Rogin titled “Biden: “When a state engages in atrocity it forfeits its sovereignty.” U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden recently highlighted the need for forceful and early international intervention to prevent governments from committing mass atrocities. “Too often in the past, these efforts have come too late, after the best and least costly opportunities to prevent them have been missed,” Biden said. “First, we must recognize early indicators of potential atrocities and respond accordingly, rather than waiting until we are confronted by massacres like those in Rwanda or in Srebrenica.” Within his speech, though, he did not explicitly make the case for intervention in Libya.