Italian Foreign Minister Op-Ed on Sovereignty, Human Rights and RtoP
'Priority for human rights'
15 August 2009
(…) But above all the absolute and exclusive nature of state sovereignty has been placed in question by another great principle that has come to the fore at the international level: the “responsibility to protect”. This is a very simple yet very incisive principle. Put simply, it means that the reason for state sovereignty to exist lies in government authorities’ duty to protect their citizens. When, instead of protecting its citizens, a government threatens or oppresses the people it should in theory be defending from internal and external dangers, then the sole and absolute nature of state sovereignty no longer exists. It is the international community that must carry out the additional function of protecting, defending and safeguarding that people. Sovereignty is functional in nature. If it no longer performs the tasks for which it was established then it loses all political credibility, especially at the international level.
But we know very well how difficult it is to bring that “responsibility to protect” to bear in a complex organisation like the United Nations, and particularly in the Security Council. We often need to find room for manoeuvre between the threat of a veto by the permanent members of the Security Council and the temptation for the major powers to “go it alone”. It is in this narrow margin that a fundamental corollary of the “responsibility to protect” finds its place: the “duty to prevent”. In the case of genocide, for example, it is clear that preventive diplomacy is far more important and effective than an international intervention (if and when any decision to that effect is reached!). It is with this conviction that Italy firmly expressed its views during the recent debate in the United Nations on the responsibility to protect. But we need to go further than merely stating the complexity of an issue which, more than juridical or procedural, is eminently political. We need, in other words, to ask ourselves whether nowadays the assumption that there is an “automatic” mutual relationship between democracy and rights might need to be revised and up-dated. (…)