World’s ‘re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect’ takes hit

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

As civil­ians in the Syr­ian city of Aleppo are bat­tered by air strikes, ground of­fen­sives and shelling, what has hap­pened to the world’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect pop­u­la­tions un­der threat? The Geneva Con­ven­tions and the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil were es­tab­lished af­ter World War Two to main­tain peace and pro­tect peo­ple in con­flict zones. But a 21st-cen­tury U.N. doc­trine called Re­spon­si­bil­ity To Pro­tect (R2P), set up by the world body’s mem­ber states to pre­vent mass killings, has only had lim­ited suc­cess.

Al­though for­mal­ized in 2005, R2P came about largely in re­sponse to the 1994 geno­cide in Rwanda, in which ex­trem­ist Hutu mili­ti­a­men slaugh­tered some 800,000 mi­nor­ity Tut­sis and mod­er­ate Hu­tus. The doc­trine also stemmed from a de­sire to pre­vent a re­cur­rence of atroc­i­ties like the 1995 mas­sacre of 8,000 Bos­nian Mus­lim men and boys by Serb forces in the town of Sre­brenica.

It placed the onus on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to “use ap­pro­pri­ate diplo­matic, hu­man­i­tar­ian and other means” to pro­tect pop­u­la­tions from crimes against hu­man­ity and eth­nic cleans­ing. Past ex­am­ples in­clude NATO’s bomb­ing of Ser­bia in 1999 as a means to pro­tect the peo­ple of Kosovo and the UN’s ad­min­is­tra­tion of East Ti­mor as In­done­sian troops de­parted, ex­perts say.

But now, R2P is a merely a “high moral as­pi­ra­tion” that has “floun­dered” on the com­plex re­al­i­ties of war­fare to­day, ac­cord­ing to Paddy Ash­down, a Bri­tish law­maker who served as high rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina 2002 to 2006. Ash­down, who was among Western politi­cians to call for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in the war in Bos­nia in the 1990s, said the world had be­come re­luc­tant get in­volved in messy, pro­tracted con­flicts. “R2P has di­min­ished from a high hope into an in­ter­est­ing col­lec­tion of words ly­ing on the ta­ble,” Ash­down said.

Ash­down, a for­mer leader of the Bri­tish op­po­si­tion Lib­eral Democrats party, was speak­ing to the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion for a short film en­ti­tled “Re­spon­si­bil­ity To Pro­tect?”, which launched yes­ter­day. Con­flict sit­u­a­tions since the US-led in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003 have shown the West to be in­ca­pable of com­ing up with sound in­ter­ven­tion strate­gies that pro­tect civil­ians, Ash­down said.

In Libya, eight years later, the United States, Bri­tain and their al­lies were crit­i­cized for fail­ing to foster peace af­ter the re­moval of Muam­mar Gaddafi from power. Is­lamic State took over the for­mer leader’s home city of Sirte a year ago as mil­i­tants prof­ited from the chaos that fol­lowed his death in 2011.

A deep­en­ing rift be­tween Rus­sia and the West, made worse by of the Ukraine cri­sis in 2014, has left the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dead­locked in ef­forts to foster peace in Syria, where Rus­sia backs the government of Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad. “When­ever the world has been chal­lenged to en­act for in­stance in Libya, or par­tic­u­larly in Syria - we’ve failed to come up to the mark,” Ash­down said. Syria’s war erupted in 2011 af­ter a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing against the As­sad fam­ily’s more than four-decade rule that was in­spired by the Arab Spring re­volts across the Mid­dle East.

The war, pit­ting rebels mostly from Syria’s Sunni ma­jor­ity against a mi­nor­ity rule rooted in As­sad’s Alaw­ite com­mu­nity, has killed more than 300,000 peo­ple. Half the pop­u­la­tion has been dis­placed and much of ur­ban Syria has be­come a waste­land. Western pow­ers say Syria’s government and its Rus­sian al­lies are guilty of war crimes for tar­get­ing civil­ians, aid de­liv­er­ies and hos­pi­tals. Moscow and Da­m­as­cus say they tar­get only mil­i­tants and deny they have hit hos­pi­tals.

“Syria is a case that’s beg­ging for ‘re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect’ and no one is show­ing any re­spon­si­bil­ity what­ever,” said Michael Ig­nati­eff, aca­demic and spe­cial­ist on hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion. “So it’s as rel­e­vant as ever, nor­ma­tively, morally, in terms of our con­science, but it is a dead let­ter in­ter­na­tion­ally,” Ig­nati­eff told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

One prob­lem is that R2P stems from a 19th-cen­tury con­cept of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions that states should in­ter­vene “when a coun­try is un­able or un­will­ing to pro­tect its own pop­u­la­tion”, said Ghas­san Salame, a for­mer se­nior ad­viser to the UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral. “But R2P has also suf­fered from a gen­eral de­cline of the ide­o­log­i­cal im­pact of the West on the rest of the world,” Salame said in an in­ter­view.

Trust in the West’s abil­ity to re­solve con­flicts and build peace took a nose dive af­ter R2P was in­voked in Libya in 2011 to stop Gaddafi killing his own peo­ple, Salame and other ex­perts said. In March 2011, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion en­dors­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion to pro­tect civil­ians against Gaddafi’s forces. But af­ter the Libyan leader’s over­throw and death, the coun­try be­came mired in a slow-burn civil war be­tween two ri­val gov­ern­ments, one in Tripoli and one in the east. “In Libya we went in, we did the job, ... (then) we walked away in­stead of cre­at­ing a net­work in­clud­ing for in­stance Turkey which would have helped to re­con­struct a peace in Libya. It’s a bloody mess,” Ash­down said. “By the way, so is Iraq,” he said.

Pro­tect­ing the Fu­ture

Pre­vi­ous moves by the United States to de­pose gov­ern­ments or leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Ge­orge W Bush, and, un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Libya, are highly prob­lem­atic for Re­spon­si­bil­ity to Pro­tect, Salame said. “This idea of regime change, that can be done clin­i­cally with­out touch­ing the state struc­ture, or with­out de­con­struc­tion of state so­ci­ety is, I hope, buried once and for all,” Salame said.

Af­ter two failed cease­fire agree­ments be­tween the United States and Rus­sia to end the fight­ing in Aleppo, a new round of talks was set up in Geneva this month to in­clude Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar, which sup­port Syr­ian op­po­si­tion groups. The Syria con­flict high­lights just how com­plex con­flicts have be­come. “We do not live in a world, in which killing and dy­ing re­main safely con­fined within a sov­er­eign state,” Ig­nati­eff said, point­ing to the refugee cri­sis in Europe stem­ming from war and in­sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East. “Look at Syria, it’s not just a lot of Syr­i­ans dy­ing. It’s de­ci­sively ef­fected the sta­bil­ity and co­he­sion of Europe,” the aca­demic said.

But when it comes to es­tab­lish­ing last­ing peace, preven­tion is bet­ter than cure, the three ex­perts said - which might prove im­por­tant ad­vice for the in­com­ing UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral, An­to­nio Guter­res. “I think he has to per­suade the world that diplo­macy has a big­ger part to play in peace as high ex­plo­sive does,” Ash­down said. — Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.