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.