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Beyond responsibility to protect: Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe

Barnes, Richard A.; Tzevelekos, Vassilis P.


Richard A. Barnes

Vassilis P. Tzevelekos


Richard Barnes

Vassilis Tzevelekos


René Magritte's famous painting showing a pipe and painted text informing the reader that ‘[t]his is not a pipe’ is susceptible to varying interpretations. The truth of the painter's message depends on whether ‘this’ refers to the pipe depicted or to the painting. Its title, ‘The Treachery of Images’, is in a sense self-explanatory. The message on the canvas invites observers to question the painting itself, inasmuch as the pipe is not an actual pipe, but a depiction of a pipe. One might see in that self-referential work the preoccupation of the surrealist painter not to mislead his audience or to challenge our perceptions of être. Foucault used Magritte's painting to support his view that modernity falsely links reality with its visual representation. Although we might use Magritte's provocative image to highlight the distinction between law as it is (lex lata) and as it ought to be (de lege ferenda) or, indeed, between law and representations of law, this is not our main focus. Instead, the provocation reflected in our title for this introductory chapter is intended to highlight that, regardless of whether R2P is (depicted as) law or an endeavouring doctrine deprived of normative power, its representations and the narratives that flow from them may have ramifications within several areas of international law and for the general order of international law. By critically reflecting on the ideas and meaning of R2P we become engaged in the process of renewing our understanding of international law and its purposes. This is also the challenge we extended to our contributing authors: to look beyond R2P.

R2P is an ambiguous and ambitious concept in international law. Its main ambiguity concerns its legal value rather than its content. Unlike many other concepts of international law, R2P has quickly found a place within United Nations (UN) documents that define, elaborate and structure it. However, no consensus exists over its normative force for the time being. Important as this question is (especially for ‘black letter’ positivists), this is not the main concern of our book. The history of international law contains numerous examples of legal ‘ghosts’ that generated ample debate, yet never managed to cross the Rubicon of normativity.


Barnes, R. A., & Tzevelekos, V. P. (2016). Beyond responsibility to protect: Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe. In R. Barnes, & V. Tzevelekos (Eds.), Beyond responsibility to protect: Generating change in international law (3-30). Intersentia.

Publication Date May 10, 2016
Deposit Date May 7, 2019
Journal Intersentia
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 3-30
Series Title International law
Series Number 16
Book Title Beyond responsibility to protect: Generating change in international law
Public URL
Publisher URL