POLITICS: U.N. Debates Duty to Halt War Crimes, Genocide

  • by Nergui Manalsuren (united nations)
  • Thursday, January 29, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

R2P was adopted at the U.N. World Summit in 2005 and gives the international community the authority - in principle - to take 'collective action', including force, when national governments fail to protect the most vulnerable from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The new International Coalition on the Responsibility to Protect was launched Wednesday at U.N. headquarters, and includes the East African Law Society (Tanzania), the West African Civil Society Institute (Ghana), the International Refugees Rights Initiative (Uganda), Initiatives for International Dialogue (Philippines), Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales (Argentina), and Human Rights Watch and Oxfam International.

All share the belief that R2P has the potential to become a powerful new tool for averting humanitarian disasters, especially when there is a concerted effort between governments and civil society.

R2P has run into controversy in the past with some governments objecting that it could be used to violate national sovereignty or encourage aggression by stronger states.

'Even though the core of the Responsibility to Protect norm addresses the responsibility of sovereignty, states and the international community, R2P cannot succeed without the support of governments, civil society and international organisations working together to prevent and halt genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,' William Pace, executive director of the World Federalist Movement and a founder of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), told IPS.

He noted that Edward Luck, a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is helping to prepare a detailed report on how R2P could actually work in practice, which will be released next month. Luck is currently working on a salary of a dollar a year, until his post is fully funded.

Asked whether the G-77, a bloc of 130 developing countries, has refused to provide funding for that post because they fear unwarranted U.N. intervention in domestic issues under the guise of R2P, Pace said that was not the reason why the U.N. budgetary committee, also known as the Fifth Committee, postponed a decision on funding the special advisor's post and office.

'The summit endorsement called for further discussion on R2P by the General Assembly, in terms of enhancing early warning and other commitments made by the heads of governments,' he told IPS. 'The Fifth Committee members apparently felt this discussion in the GA should proceed before considering the secretary-general's proposed new post was funded.'

'It was the first year of the new secretary-general's term and many appointments and budgetary proposals were not handled as effectively as they should have been,' he said.

Augusto Miclat, executive director of Initiatives for International Dialogue in the Philippines, told IPS that, 'Their [the G-77] fears are founded, but narrow.'

'That is why it is important for the Southern countries to take the lead in implementing, interpreting this norm from the perspective of victims of conflict. It is important that we are all on the same page regarding indicators about the threshold when a situation is identified as an R2P,' he said.

Asked whether the recent Israeli assault on civilians in Gaza was a situation that should have invoked U.N. intervention under the R2P concept, he responded that it was.

'The world saw the disproportionate use of killing machines obviously targeting non-combatants, civilians, women and children. If this is not a war crime, what is?' he asked.

On Dec. 26, Richard Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, also cited R2P, after being denied entry by Israel into the West Bank and Gaza.

'In the last several years, the U.N. Security Council has endorsed the idea of humanitarian intervention under the rubric of 'a responsibility to protect', also known as R2P, and no world circumstance combines the misery and vulnerability of the people more urgently than does the situation of the people of Gaza living under occupation since 1967,' Falk said.

'Surely the present emergency circumstances present a compelling case for the application of this protective response under U.N. auspices. If this does not happen, it will again demonstrate to the people of the world, especially those in the Middle East, that geopolitics trumps international law and humanitarian concerns and leaves those victimised with few options.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?