Operation violates UN Charter

In this column last week, I expressed my concerns and misgivings about French intervention in Cote d’Ivoire as well as the Nato operation in Libya. Both of these operations have been undertaken under the general rubric of humanitarian intervention arising from the notion of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P).

In the last few days, however, some permanent members of the Security Council and others have openly questioned the intentions (regime change) and conduct of the Nato forces as well as the behaviour of the UN Secretary General in handling the Libyan situation.

 It would seem that the imperialist aims of western powers have conspired with the ambitions of a Secretary General gunning for a second term to violate the fundamental purposes and principles of the UN enshrined in Chapter One of the Charter. (see especially, Ch. 1 Art. 2 (3&4). To gain some insights on the issues involved and in anticipation of points of contention that are likely to arise in the ensuing debate, I provide a brief background.

 The notion of (R2P), arising out of a 2001 report “The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), revolves around the rather dubious and still evolving idea that sovereign states have the primary responsibility to protect and defend their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe. However, when states are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states.

The concern to protect people from extreme forms of suffering such as mass murder, large scale torture, massive disappearances, starvation, etc. is essentially a post-cold war phenomenon. It became particularly pronounced in the wake of the crises in Bosnia and Somalia in the early 1990s, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the Kosovo campaign in 1999 as well Srebrenica in 2001.

In the wake of these crises ‘Responsibility to protect’ has since evolved into the controversial doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” which has raised so much debate and discussion in the international community on a number of contentious issues.

At the theoretical level the debate raises concerns about the eventuality of the principle of the sovereign right of exclusive jurisdiction within states and non-intervention between them, which lies at the core of the United Nations Charter. At the same time, the debate acknowledges the equally important principle of the right of people to protection (by the international community?) from gross human rights violations enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Can the two principles be reconciled?

At the practical level one encounters numerous and quite controversial questions such as; who is to decide when to intervene, at what point in time, for what reasons, by whom, with what mandate and objectives, with what means, for how long, etc. it should be noted that the conceptual and operational are not exclusive domains.

Indeed failure to address and resolve some of the conceptual difficulties has resulted in serious disagreements in the UN between those members up-holding the sovereignty principle as primary to the UN and those propagating human rights as a fundamental moral principle. This situation has obstructed or paralyzed many a humanitarian intervention mission without a clear assignment of blame when catastrophes such as the genocide in Rwanda have occurred.

At the centre of the controversies are at least two fundamental questions. One question is whether, in principle, within the spirit and letter of the present UN Charter, the UN Security Council can defend state sovereignty and promote intervention at the same time.

The second question is whether humanitarian intervention is, in fact, a smoke screen for unilateral or coalitional intervention of the powerful states in the weaker states in pursuit of their national interest (as happened in Iraq (2003) and to some extent in Kosovo) thus rendering the UN system, a form of ‘organised hypocrisy’ as recently described in a book by Stephen Krasner.

 It is largely for these reasons the ICISS adopted the term ‘intervention’ discarding the ‘humanitarian’ part in acknowledgement of the fact that “…states seldom intervene for purely humanitarian reasons” The commission thus defines intervention as “action taken against a state or its leaders, without its or their consent, for purposes which are claimed to be humanitarian or protective”.

Given the mission creep in Libya the UN is embarked upon a slippery slope to potentially catastrophic international anarchy!

Professor Mwesiga Baregu lectures at Saut

[Source: The Citizen, Tanzania, 26Apr11]

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