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R2P: Security norm vs regime change

Dr Christopher Mushohwe
This week’s instalment in the series on “The Regime Change Agenda”, a book published by Dr Nyaradzo Mtizira-Nondo, we start serialising a contribution to the text by Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Dr Christopher Mushohwe on the concept of the “responsibility to protect” in international relations. Read on . . .
The end of Cold War did not result in the expected peace in the international community. With open conflicts unabated, new insecurities confronted states and individuals.

Inevitably the debate around the supremacy of human security over state (regime) security arose.

Whereas sovereignty, which refers to the exclusive competence of the state to make authoritative decisions of government with regards to all people and resources within its territory, had been clung to by some former colonies, this aspect was progressively superseded by the Responsibility to Protect concept that compels states to loosen their tightness on national boundaries.

The former colonies attachment to sovereignty is deeply emotional.

The colonial experience traumatised many of them, and long shadows cast by this are yet to disappear. The anti-colonial impulse in their world-view still survives as powerful sentiment of these nations.

As such, Responsibility to Protect is perceived by most developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America as a marked shift from the 1648 Treaty of the Westphalia which asserted the respect of state sovereignty and autonomy as an international norm.

The above mentioned treaty emphasises the principle of non-interference, the principle that was also enshrined in the Organisation of African Unity Charter and had been sheepishly accepted by its member states.

“Humanitarian intervention” has been controversial both when it happens, and when it has failed to happen.

Rwanda in 1994 laid bare the full horror of inaction.

The United Nations Secretariat and some permanent members of the Security Council knew that officials connected to the then government were planning genocide; UN forces were present, though not in sufficient numbers at the outset; and credible strategies were available to prevent, or at least greatly mitigate, the slaughter which followed.

But the Security Council refused to take the necessary action.

That was a failure of international will — of civic courage — at the highest level.

Its consequence was not merely a humanitarian catastrophe for Rwanda: the genocide destabilised the entire Great Lakes region and continues to do so.

In the aftermath, many African people concluded that, for all the rhetoric about the universality of human rights, some human lives end up mattering a great deal less to the international community than others.

Despite the vow — “Never-Again: — time and again”, “since the Holocaust, yet genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other mass atrocity crimes continue to shock human conscience-from the killing fields of Cambodia to the machetes of Rwanda and to the agony of Darfur.

Kosovo — where intervention did take place in 1999 — concentrated attention was on all the other sides of the argument.

The operation raised major questions about the legitimacy of military intervention in a sovereign state.

Was the cause just: were the human rights abuses committed or threatened by the Belgrade authorities sufficiently serious to warrant outside involvement?

Did those seeking secession manipulate external intervention to advance their political purposes?

Were all peaceful means of resolving the conflict fully explored? Did the intervention receive appropriate authority?

How the passing and marginalisation of the UN system by “a coalition of the willing” acting without Security Council approval possibly be justified?

Did the way in which the intervention was carried out in fact not worsen the very human rights situation it was trying to rectify?

Or against all this — was it the case that had the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation not intervened, Kosovo would have been at best the site of an ongoing, bloody and destabilising civil war, and at worst the occasion for genocidal slaughter like that which occurred in Bosnia four years earlier.

The Bosnia case — the failure by the United Nations and others to prevent the massacre of thousands of civilians seeking shelter in UN “safe areas” in Srebrenica in 1995 — is another case which has had a major impact on the contemporary policy debate about intervention for human protection purposes.

It raises the principle that intervention amounts to the promise to people in need: a promise cruelly betrayed.

Yet another was the failure and ultimate withdrawal of the UN peace operations in Somalia in 1992-93, when an international intervention to save lives and to restore order was destroyed by flawed planning, poor execution, and an excessive dependence on military force.

This botched operation resulted in the ruthless and callous slaughter of American peacekeepers in Mogadishu.

The basic lines in the contemporary policy debate, constantly re-engaged at UN headquarters in New York and in capitals around the world, have been clearly drawn.

For some, the international community is not intervening enough; for others it is intervening much too often.

For some, the only real issue is in ensuring that coercive interventions are effective; for others, questions about legality, process and possible misuse of precedents loom much larger.

For some, the new interventions herald a new world in which human rights trumps state sovereignty; yet for others, it ushers in a world in which big powers ride roughshod over the smaller ones, manipulating the rhetoric of humanitarianism and human rights.

The controversy has laid bare basic divisions within the international community. In the interest of all those victims who suffer and die when leadership and institutions fail, it is crucial that divisions be resolved.

The question posed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was then: if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to Rwanda, to Srebrenica, to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity? (KA Annan, 2000)

In September 2000, the government of Canada responded to the secretary-general’s challenge by announcing the establishment of the independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty.

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