The Principle Of The `Responsibility To Protect (R2P)’

Sunday Leader , SriLanka
May 15 2010

The Principle Of The `Responsibility To Protect (R2P)’ ` Time To Stop
The Obfuscation

There has been a fresh outburst of invective led by that master of
obfuscation and pet poodle of the Rajapaksa regime, Rajiva Wijesinha,
relative to the now famous (or notorious) concept of the
Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

To try to deal with the vapid outpourings of Mr. Wijesinha in this
context would be a task akin to trying to knot eels with one’s bare
hands and similarly senseless to boot. I will, therefore, make no
further reference to him.
Those who have sought to demonize Gareth Evans, Radhika Coomaraswamy,
Rama Mani et al have consistently stayed away from the central
principle of R2P which is amply stated in its very title.

That this has been a humanistic and logical response to the bestial
behaviour of regimes that have visited unbelievable cruelties on their
own people, is deliberately avoided by those seeking to consign R2P to
the dust bin in the corner of contemporary discussion.

What is consistently invoked in efforts to counter the moral
imperative to intervene in circumstances where populations are
subjected to unspeakable behaviour by their rulers are the alleged
rights to ‘self-determination’, `national integrity’ etc. which, in
point of fact, do little more than suggest that those in power can do
anything to all or some of those, over whom they rule without any risk
of intervention from `outsiders’.

I will not mince my words. I think this is beyond the worst of
mediaeval practice and seeks to turn back whatever advances have been
made in the matter of humane governance over many centuries past. The
concept is simply barbaric.

This is the kind of thinking that would have made the Nuremberg Trials
unthinkable and, going even further back in European history, the
first human rights protests against the genocide visited upon central
Africans by Leopold II of Belgium, late in the 19th century,
In short, the R2P advances a principle that is nothing short of
essential, practical and, let’s bite the bullet and say it, noble.

Invoking the now-famous defence of certain Sri Lankan political
commentators of `But they did it first,’ does not cut the mustard. If,
as has happened, more times than one would care to remember, those
exercising power within the boundaries of a country choose to ride
rough-shod over the human rights of their ‘subjects,’ there is no way
that a world claiming to be civilised should stand by and watch it
happen. Even if those acting to deal with such injustice could be
considered hypocritical because they did not act similarly in
circumstances that involved them more directly, the necessity to
maintain civilised conduct in the international arena requires that
they intervene.

What other option is there to prevent or curtail massive abuses of
human rights inclusive of the primary one, the right to life?
People of compassion who believed in the human rights of the weak and
those conquered by force of arms began the first human rights movement
in Europe in the late 19th century as a response to the unspeakable
cruelty visited upon central Africans by the king of the Belgians.
That was one of the very early, if not the first, mass mobilisations
of humanistic impulses to counter genocide. That what happened in
Rwanda about a century later, did not see anything like an appropriate
response is one of the great tragedies of the last century. But
history has already acknowledged the magnitude of that terrible
failure to act by the Western nations (and the rest of the world) and
condemned those who stood by and watched it happen.

Incidentally, General Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With The Devil as
well as King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild should be required
reading for anyone presuming to express `expert’ opinions on matters
of genocide and the suppression of human rights in the 20th and 21st
centuries. Given the central African genocide of the late 19th
century, what Turkey visited upon the Armenians in the early 20th
century, the Holocaust and the Rwandan tragedy, I am truly astounded
that allegedly educated and humane people could raise such a ruckus
about the principle of R2P.

What is consistently being suggested as the alternative to the
exercise of this concept is that the rulers of countries in which
massacres and the wholesale destruction of human rights is being
practiced, are applying some principle of ‘sovereignty’ or
‘self-determination’ left to `reform,’ This is akin to the world,
doing little other than appealing to Hitler to stop sending the Jews
to the gas chambers; the Turks being asked, `pretty please,’ not to
send millions of Armenians to an assortment of graves; the Hutus to
desist from chopping up, literally, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis;
the Bosnian Serbs not to murder thousands of their Muslim fellow
citizens and going on bended knee to the Sudanese government in
efforts to stop its ethnic cleansing of non-Arab tribes in the Darfur
Where does one begin the process of `wimping out’?

Expecting countries who are acting in blatant contravention of
internationally accepted human rights to suddenly, on the polite
request of some outside agency or country, stop their depredations and
return their citizenry to a mode of civilised governance is nothing
short of absurdly unrealistic. Has the Myanmarese government done this
over many years of appeals from the democratic world? No! Aung San Suu
Kyi is still imprisoned and not even permitted to run in the
forthcoming election which will be graced by a whole slew of generals
who are divesting themselves of their uniforms in order to run for
election as `civilians’. Has China so much as permitted an
examination of what occurred in Tiananmen Square lo this many years

I could go on and on

On the other hand, we have South Africa where, thanks to sanctions,
embargoes, and other interventions, the Apartheid was dismantled,
Mandela released from decades of imprisonment and a truly remarkable
transformation into the new democratic South Africa became a reality.
We have Bosnia and Herzegovina where Karadzic and, we hope before much
longer, Ratko Mladic will be brought to trial for the murders
committed in that Balkan state.

There are situations where the responsibility to protect can and must
be invoked and appropriate steps taken to apply its provisions to
protect otherwise helpless people from the depredations of their
rulers. Exactly when and how those principles are to be applied must
be determined, internationally-accepted benchmarks established and
adhered to so that the `Dubya-cowboys’ of the Western world and others
of their ilk don’t run hog wild. But the principle of the R2P must be
accepted as a cornerstone of civilised international conduct and
applied accordingly.

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