Monday, March 17, 2008

If not war, then what?

The recent letter has not made it to the Guardian letters page. Never mind. Try again.

Max Hastings is right; the Iraq experience has laid bare the limits of raw military power (Comment, March 17th). But now we must answer the question put by last ditch defenders of the Iraq disaster. “How else are we to curb the excesses of regimes for whom repression, oppression, disappearances, political imprisonment and torture are their instruments of government?” The UN has adopted a stance of Responsibility to Protect, which gives it a responsibility to intervene in cases of genocide, but is vague on the means that it will use.

The Green Party here and in Europe is pressing for the United Nations to publish a distillate of its reports into all countries’ human rights records as an Index of Human Rights, a ranking which shows the full spectrum of governments practices, from the best to the worst. This will have several positive effects. In the first place, many Governments will protest that they have been misjudged, and purge their jails of political prisoners before the arrival of UN inspectors. All countries will seek to increase their standing, including Governments like ours, whose human rights record is not in the top band, so it will exert a universal and continuous motivation to improve governance. Importantly, it will become far harder to demonise a regime on whom our leaders intend to wage war if people can easily see that there are many worse performers. Most importantly, the very worst performers can be legally investigated and taken to the International Criminal Court. Once this has happened a couple of times, those near the bottom will start to ask for help in improving their governance.

Admittedly, the Index of Human Rights is not quite so newsworthy as the modern day blitzkrieg favoured by our Government, but it is a rational and effective way to answer the question posed by oppressive regimes.

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