Cambodia could be at the centre of efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in promoting human protection norms by taking the lead in implementing Responsibly to Protect (R2P), which was adopted by the United Nations in 2005. Following the end of the Cold War, the world witnessed the demise of ideological conflicts and the birth of internal conflicts. From the latter part of the 20th century until now, humanitarian crises continue to shock the consciousness of the international community. The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo created strong impetus for the international community to find a new consensus on how to deal with problems of genocide and mass atrocities. In 2001, a Canadian-sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) argued that the international community had a responsibility to protect populations from such grave crimes, witnessed in Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere.
In a nutshell, R2P emphasises that sovereignty entails both rights and responsibilities and that the latter incorporates the state’s responsibility to protect its population against mass atrocity crimes. As such, R2P is fundamentally about the protection of human life. As a norm and principle, it is based on international laws and conventions, such as the Genocide Convention of 1948 and international humanitarian law. A decade had passed now since the adoption of R2P by the UN, the norm has three pillars: first, the primary responsibility of individual sovereign states to protect their own population from genocide, crime against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, and prevent incitement; second, the international community’s responsibility to encourage and assist states in fulfilling these responsibilities; and third, the international community’s responsibility to protect populations through peaceful means and, should that fail, to take collective actions in a timely and decisive manner. Cambodia will command greater respect from the international community if its government takes it upon itself to showcase its achievements in atrocities prevention and its commitment to the principle of R2P.
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