Saturday, May 14, 2005

Responsibility to Protect - but by what means?

We should be grateful to Claire-Marie White for drawing our attention to the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which is emerging in international thinking. The international community cannot stand back and watch while governments are committing crimes against the people who they claim to govern.

On the other hand, we need to take an interest in what kind of intervention the nations have in mind. Up to now, the discussion has been about what level of criminality will be sufficient to trigger a legal UN led military invasion. It seems that it will occur as the very last resort, and in response to genocide and ethnic cleansing. The example of Iraq should make us think twice before intervening in this way. It is pretty clear that we should be very careful not to shake the bottle before taking the cap off a repressive regime.

R2P is a sound doctrine, but the responsibility, and the protection, needs to begin much earlier than is currently being considered. By the time genocide is started, it is too late. The international community needs to have early warning of the activities of repressive regimes. Amnesty International produces excellent annual reports on all the states in the world. The problem with reports is that things get buried in them. The one thing that the world does not lack is reading matter. Politicians and statespersons need to have information presented in ways that they can take in at a glance. If these human rights reports were to be presented to the world as an official, UN based Index, with states' characteristics in terms of torture, political prisoners, free speech, free elections, the position of women and other activities rendered into a numerical figure (there are a couple of examples of this kind of Index in existence), then the world would be able to tell at a glance the relative position of any state.

This "Index of Human Rights" (or perhaps "Index of Governance") would bring about a slight general pressure on human rights abuses, because governments even tyrannical ones, do care about public opinion, as the success of Amnesty International testifies. More specifically, many regimes would appeal against their placement; the UN could send in inspectors, and the governments would release prisoners prior to the inspections. So the Index would directly cause prisoner releases. Low performing states could be offered advice and help in coming to terms with the fact that not everyone who disagrees with them should be incarcerated
and tortured. In the long run, the very worst performing regimes could be
taken to court and come under targeted sanctions, which are directed
specifically against the ruling elite of the country, and not against the

This is a new initiative, and its unfamiliarity raises many questions in peoples' minds. There is a detailed document on the Web here
where the proposal is set out and questions answered. At present, it is at the stage of seeking support within the NGO community. The UK Boards of Amnesty International, UNA and Medact are currently considering it. Friends who wish to support the Index initiative might wish to write to QUNO asking them to evaluate it.

The international community has a clear and definite responsibility to protect people from oppressive regimes; but all peace loving people have a responsibility to find a way of achieving this aim in a non-violent way.

the Friend -
Independent Quaker journalism since 1843

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