|Tuesday, 16 December 2008|
Gareth Evans was in Geneva last week at the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP) to launch his latest book entitled, 'Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All.' The previous year he had been in Sri Lanka, at the invitation of a former alumnus of the GCSP, where he suggested that Sri Lanka should be considered as a potential case in which R2P could be invoked.
Mr. Evans opened his speech with an appeal that, whatever else was "messed up" in international relations, large scale humanitarian atrocities should not be allowed to occur. He believed the framework of R2P could assist the international community to develop a collective accountability for a reflexive response when alerted to violent situations that could become humanitarian catastrophes.
During the Cold War, there were interventions by major powers but these were not motivated by moral responsibility but rather the self-defense that was in compliance with Article 2.7 of the United Nations Charter. The post-Cold War years gave rise to international involvement in the form of humanitarian intervention in situations such as Somalia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo, the last being controversial as the intervention occurred without the approval of the United Nations Security Council. In most cases, help arrived too late, reproducing situations the international community had vowed never to tolerate again….
Mr. Evans attributed this inaction and apathy to the increasing emphasis placed on the sanctity of sovereignty. He claimed that since the Treaty of Westphalia, indifference was institutionalized via the concept of national sovereignty and its exaltation of the State as ultimate in its authority. At present, this was asserted most strongly by countries of the Global South, but Mr. Evans appreciated that these nations wanted to guard their independence after having endured the legacies of Northern imperialism, expansionism and what was described as a civilizing mission. However, current attitudes towards state sovereignty have created a wide gulf in the international community between those who advocate international involvement and those who are more reluctant about the so-called 'right to intervene.'
As proposed by Mr. Evans, the solution to this North-South impasse is the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, which he claims contributed to the intervention discourse on three levels: firstly, on a conceptual level, R2P shifted the focus from the 'right to intervene' of any state to the 'responsibility to protect' in the face of large scale human rights violations. Secondly, theR2P mechanism offers a more holistic approach to the previously singular military response to humanitarian catastrophes in that it is comprised of the responsibility to prevent and to rebuild as well as to react. Lastly, if and when military force is authorized its legitimacy should be based on clear criteria, such as: the scale of harm, intentions of proposed military action, last resort, proportionality, and the balance of consequences.
Despite the noble intentions of the doctrine, Mr. Evans himself expressed some doubt as to the impact of R2P. After the initial euphoria surrounding its acceptance at the 2005 World Summit died down, the international community was forced to acknowledge the myriad conceptual, institutional and political challenges yet to be addressed by this doctrine, which led to what Mr. Evans referred to as "buyer's remorse" among some governments. He felt therefore that it was important to make clear that the doctrine did not envisage interference as a matter of course, but rather involved engagement with concerned countries, that would generally play their own part in remedying the situation.
Question time revealed the very different approaches to the doctrine, along the lines Mr. Evans had suggested. The first five questions came from representatives of Northern nations, and were generally positive. The next two came from Egypt and Sri Lanka, and suggested some disquiet, though both speakers were in principal supportive of the doctrine provided it adhered to the requirements suggested by the United Nations in 2005.
The representative from Egypt made the point that, whilst proponents of R2P generally drew attention to problems such as those of Darfur and the Congo and Zimbabwe in support of the doctrine, it was surprising that they did not refer to the case of Israel, given continuing problems in Palestine of the sort R2P was intended to address. Mr. Evans answered the question by claiming that those who wanted protection for the Palestinians were wary of R2P in such a context since that applied to individual states, and their view was that this was a two state situation. This response ignored the main thrust of the question, which was the readiness of proponents of R2P to interfere where they disapproved of regimes, but to ignore the manifest self asserted responsibility of Israel for the territory over which it claimed sovereignty, by virtue of its original reliance on the United Nations resolution which had created Israel, and its rejection of subsequent United Nations resolutions demanding its withdrawal from areas it had over-run in 1967.
That question suggested the inconsistency that dogged the doctrine of R2P, and seemed to justify the fears of those who saw it as an instrument of international aggression, with selective manipulation of emotional considerations. The representative from Sri Lanka pointed out how Mr. Evans had misused concepts such as genocide and ethnic cleansing in his remarks on Sri Lanka the previous year, though he had been man enough to admit under questioning that he was not referring to actions of the Sri Lankan state but to those of the Tamil Tigers. The emotive impact of his remarks however suggested that he too had been manipulated.
Mr. Evans noted that he was far too old to be easily manipulated, but he did grant that much greater precision was needed as to the conditions under which the doctrine might be applied. In this regard, he recognized the problems of possible over-reach, which explained his careful insistence on the role of the relevant state party in dealing with problems that arose. Otherwise, as he noted, it was all too likely that the final word on the doctrine he had nurtured would be 'RIP R2P'.
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