Monday, December 18, 2006

What is R2P - - without you and me?

Outgoing UN Under-Secretary General Kofi Annan is using centre stage for one thing.......the 'Responsibility to Protect'.

On Human Rights Day, Annan was unrelenting in his critique of the continued international failures:
As you know, last year's World Summit formally endorsed that momentous doctrine (R2P) - which means, in essence, that respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as an excuse for inaction in the face of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Yet one year later, to judge by what is happening in Darfur, our performance has not improved much since the disasters of Bosnia and Rwanda. Sixty years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, and 30 years after the Cambodian killing fields, the promise of "never again" is ringing hollow.
All well and good and something we've heard all too often. However, what stood out in last week's speech was his direct call out to civil society:
...I look to civil society - which means you! We need dedicated individuals and dynamic human rights defenders to hold governments to account. States' performance must be judged against their commitments, and they must be accountable both to their own people and to their peers in the international community.
Words alone will never lead action. The only true leadership comes from example. If R2P is not important to us, in a very public way, then on paper it will remain.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stripping Away the Humanitarian Veneer of the UN "Peacekeeping" Force to Somalia

Those who forget history are bound to repeat it. Yesterday, urged and led by the US, the UN Security Council voted to authorize a 8,000-strong IGAD peacekeeping force into Somalia to protect the weak Transitional Federal Government led by President Yusuf. While it is indisputable that Somalia is a divided country, many are concerned that this peacekeeping force will spark a vicious backlash that could truly engulf the region in conflict. The Union of Islamic Courts, which controls Mogadishu, has warned that it will fight any peacekeepers, perceived as invading forces, that enter its territory.

The only government yet to commit troops for the peacekeeping force is Uganda, which raises controversy because the Government is already accused of failing its responsibility to protect its civilians caught in the brutal 20-year war in its northen region. How can it justify sending peacekeepers to Somalia when peacekeepers are needed for its own people? Interestingly for that question, another government that may possibly commit troops is Sudan. Ethiopia would be a likely candidate, but neighboring countries are banned from participating in the force. However, there are reports that Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia one month ago to contain the Union of Islamic Courts.

While the discourse is one of "peacekeeping," one does have not to be cynical to think that this action may be more about geo-strategic politics than peace. In fact, the US Government has been concerned for some time that Islamic forces could take control of the country. It was revealed in May of this year that the US has been secretly backing warlords in Mogadishu. Since the Islamic Courts took Mogadishu, Somalia has been the top Africa priority of the State Department and the US mission at the Security Council. The US has urged a lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in 1992. A report last month by the UN showed that major violations of the arms embargo had been committed by Uganda, Ethiopia and others. It is worth noting that dating back to the early 1990s, Uganda and Ethiopia have been strategic allies of the US in the region. As this new peacekeeping force is put together, some worry that the force will be committed more to securing US interests than promoting a political solution to the conflict.

And that brings us to the lessons of history. John Prendergasts writes that the US and UN are missing the lessons of the past, and should focus on promoting a political solution and a government of national unity.

As this unfolds, we see another example where the language of humanitarianism is being manipulated by nations pursuing their geo-strategic interests. Conflict and turmoil in Somalia, just like Iraq, will be used by commentators to justify stances of isolationism or strict non-interventionism. One of the hopes of 'responsibility to protect' was that it could shift the paradigm to make space for responsible and just collective action that prioritizes civilian protection. The case for R2P may now have to begin by deconstructing the humanitarian veneer of interventions in Iraq and now Somalia.

Instead of Debate, How about a Demonstration?

The UN Security Council upheld its newest tradition on Monday - a semi-annual debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This tradition stems from Resolution 1674 (2006) on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, citing responsibility to protect. Several UN officials and government representatives spoke at the debate. With the exception of China and Russia, who remain skeptical about R2P, everyone else praised the concept as hope for the future. Unfortunately, their words ring hollow as the international community continues to evade violence in Darfur and remains largely silent in the face of atrocities in northern Uganda, Burma and elsewhere. Instead of a debate, how about a demonstration of what R2P can achieve to save lives?

In any case, here is one key quotation from the debate:

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland: "Our responsibility to protect must transcend singular interests and become a core principle of humanity across all civilizations...When the lives and safety of civilians are at stake, regardless of where, neither strategic nor economic or other political interests should deter members from acting swiftly upon their united responsibility to protect."

Unfortunately, strategic and political interests continue to trump action in Darfur and northern Uganda. Perhaps the UN should make it's next semi-annual debate on what it will take to build the political will or to overcome entrenched interests to live up to its applauded responsibility.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Intervention's Realistic Future: Hope for R2P

In the wake of fighting in Iraq, many commentators on U.S. foreign policy are predicting the return of hardcore realism. Yet, in the The Washington Post last week, Robert Kaplan writes that will not be the case:
"This is nonsense. Our foreign policy is about to experience an adjustment, not a flip-flop. Neither political party will support anything else if it really wants to elect a president in 2008. Just look at the dismay in this country over our failure to intervene in Darfur, even given the burden we already carry in Iraq. To be sure, the recent evidence that our democratic system cannot be violently exported will temper our Wilsonian principles, but it will not bury them. Pure realism -- without a hint of optimism or idealism -- would immobilize our mass immigrant democracy, which has always seen itself as an agent of change."
Kaplan continues, "The lesson is not that we won't intervene again. We will, and often. But we will do so with the caution and hesitation shown in the 1990s and only as part of an authentic coalition." When I hear intervention, caution, hesitation and authentic coalition in the same thought, I think R2P. As these foreign policy discussions commence, now's the time to those of us who believe in the power and potential of R2P to advance the cause.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Now, before I go . . .

As of Sunday, I’ll be out of town for a week, with very limited access to the internet, so consider this a week’s worth of entries.

Last week at a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ conference in Chicago, Gareth Evans, President of International Crisis Group and Co-Chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, delivered the keynote address, The Responsibility to Protect: From an Idea to an International Norm.

And, if anyone knows R2P, it’s Gareth Evans. He doesn’t just understand it, he belives in it’s moral implications and the idea that in the end, it all points back at us, all of us:
And the third piece of unfinished business, the biggest of all as always, is the ever-recurring problem of generating the political will to act. We just have to get to the point where, when the next conscience-shocking mass human rights violation comes along, as it inexorably will, the reflex response of both governments and publics around the world, will be to talk immediately about the responsibility to protect, and find reasons to act, not to pretend that it is none of our business.
That is exactly it. We can point fingers all we like at politicians and policy makers, but if we believe in R2P and we really did mobilize around Darfur and Uganda with that demand, it would be invoked. In fact, I don’t see any other way it ever will be, unless civil society stands up and demands action.

And I can't end it any better than this:
When we say that R2P is the responsibility of the international community, that means all of us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The “big problem in Darfur” and the “prospects for success” in Uganda

The conflict in Darfur remains, at least in the media, the ideal case for humanitarian intervention and the ‘responsibility to protect’. Not so fast, continues Ramesh Thakur.
Before undertaking military intervention, be confident of reasonable prospects for success in the mission. Given Sudan's size and regional geopolitics, this is a big problem in Darfur. By its very nature, including unpredictability, unintended consequences and the risk to innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, warfare is inherently brutal: nothing humanitarian about the means.

The ethic of conviction, which impels us to act, must be balanced by the equally compelling ethic of responsibility, which requires us to weigh moral action against the pragmatism of consequences.

Still, the fundamental question cannot be avoided. Under what circumstances is the use of force necessary to provide effective international humanitarian protection to at-risk populations without the consent of their own government?
There enters the question of the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda. A brutal war that has seen over 30,000 children abducted, 100,000 civilians killed and over 1.5-million people (90% of the entire population of northern Uganda) forced into squalid displacement camps. Conditions are so bad, that 1,000 people have been dying every week.

In northern Uganda, a ceasefire is now in place and peace talks are in motion, yet the camp conditions remain unchanged. The government of Uganda has guaranteed that the camps will be destroyed by the end of the year, so that the entire civilian population can go home.

Then the questions abound. Home to what? And if the peace talks fail? How much longer do we wait to protect the innocent victims of this senseless and ultimately simple conflict? 1 year? 2 years? 5 years?

If the government of Uganda can’t provide enough support to the camps or can’t allow ‘their’ people to go home, what is the responsibility to protect?

The responsibility is clear, and that clarity is in the very first pillar of R2P, the responsibility to 'prevent', “ crisis putting populations at risk.”

The need is clear, so where is the call for R2P in Uganda?

Monday, November 20, 2006

The morality and practicality of R2P

Sure we're giving Eric Posner's thoughts on R2P way more attention than they deserve, but they were picked apart, with balance and depth on Monday by Ramesh Thakur, one of the principal authors of the report 'The Responsibility to Protect'.
The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty was the midwife to "the responsibility to protect" precisely because we recognized "humanitarian intervention" to be an oxymoron. It is not obvious that Posner read our slim report before proceeding to criticize its main conclusions.

In using Iraq to attack the new norm, Posner sets up a straw target. Most ICISS Commissioners argued that Iraq did not meet our threshold criteria; some of us said so publicly in 2003.
End of story.

What's most compelling in Thakur's article is his admission that R2P is far from perfect, but explains that what it does provide is a clear moral accountability for 'intervention'.
The goal of protective intervention is never to wage war on a state to destroy it and eliminate its statehood, but always to protect victims of atrocities inside the state, embed the protection in reconstituted institutions after the intervention, and then withdraw all foreign troops.

Military intervention, even for humanitarian purposes, is a polite euphemism for the use of deadly force on a massive scale. Even when there is agreement that intervention may be necessary to protect innocent people from life-threatening danger by interposing an outside force between actual or apprehended victims and perpetrators, key questions remain about agency, lawfulness and legitimacy.

Based on the pragmatism of consequences as much as legal doctrine, ICISS concluded that there is no substitute for the U.N. as the authorizing agent.