25 August 2009 News Update
In this issue: Susan Rice’s NYU Speech; Italian FM on RtoP; UN General Assembly debate
I. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice omits RtoP in NYU speech
1. NOT ENOUGH? SUSAN RICE’S SPEECH WAS A GOOD START TOWARD GLOBAL RE-ENGAGEMENT. BUT IT WAS ONLY THAT – A START.
II. Italian Foreign Minister speaks on sovereignty, human rights and RtoP
1. THE PRIORITY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
III. Reporting on the UN General Assembly RtoP debate
1. FOREIGN POLICY IN FOCUS: BAN KI MOON AND R2P
2. AMERICAN MAGAZINE: THE STATE’S DUTY TO PROTECT: ENFORCEMENT IN QUESTION
IV. Responsibility to Protect in South East Asia
1. DIRE CONDITIONS FOR THE MORO IDPS CREATE DEBATE ABOUT R2P IN THE PHILIPPINES
2. WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: DEPLORING BURMA’S UNJUST DECISION
V. Related reports
1. REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL REPORT: GREATER EXPECTATIONS: UN PEACEKEEPING & CIVILIAN PROTECTION
2. NEW MONITOR ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN DARFUR
I. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice omits RtoP in NYU speech
1. Not Enough? Susan Rice's speech was a good start toward global re-engagement. But it was only that -- a start.
By John Norris
13 August 2009
In a speech last night at New York University, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice spelled out the Obama administration's vision for U.N. and global engagement. Her tone was decidedly upbeat -- almost valedictory -- and it came as no surprise to hear her happily declare, "It is a great time to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations." After eight years of hostility from the George W. Bush administration, two of which were spent under Ambassador John Bolton (who left little tiny shoes to fill), the high-spirited atmospherics were to be expected. The new administration, in stark contrast to its predecessor, has brought a wholesale shift in mood and attitude to Washington's relations with the United Nations. With it has come a jump in the step of diplomats walking the hallways in Turtle Bay. But Rice's speech, which was a good one, also deserves a very careful reading. Some important things were left out.
(…)Equally AWOL from the speech was any reference to the "responsibility to protect" either as a concept or practice. This omission was unfortunate. When the international community can and should intervene in conflicts and humanitarian emergencies is a complicated, deeply contentious issue at the United Nations. If the Obama administration remains silent on the issue, many will perceive that Washington has lost interest in dealing with the Sudans, East Timors, and Kosovos of the world -- given the country's ongoing distractions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rice was, however, effective in arguing that U.N. peacekeeping missions need mandates that are "credible and achievable," with forces that are "equipped seriously, led ably." She stressed that the United States is keen to help other countries train and deploy peacekeepers. In recent congressional testimony she went further, arguing, "The Security Council has recently given some very ambitious mandates to peacekeeping operations in Africa, such as protecting civilians under the threat of physical violence -- including sexual violence -- in vast and populous territories with limited infrastructure, faltering peace processes, ongoing hostilities, and uncooperative host governments." (…)
II. Italian Foreign Minister speaks on RtoP
Priority for human rights
15 August 2009
Franco Frattini is the current Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
One of the key issues on which the credibility of the international community rests is the relationship between two principles that sometimes seem to be contradictory. One is state sovereignty, with the related principle of non-interference. The other is fundamental human rights, which have acquired a trans-national value that crosses state boundaries. (…)
Second, because governments are no longer exclusive actors. (…) 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.
(…)And the international community needs to be able to establish and adopt new rules and a new “code of conduct” that gives human dignity its place as one of the great strategic questions of the 21st century, at least on a par with nuclear disarmament. (…)
We need to propose to them the courageous road of increasingly espousing rights in the eyes of the world and of helping the UN to make an important change of policy direction. After all, the expressions of “serious concern” over the sentencing of the leader of the Burmese opposition and the “political impact” of that sentence – expressions contained in the UN Security Council’s press release – seem to nurture fresh hopes and almost usher in a new season. Not least because the Council has underscored and reiterated the importance of the release of “all political prisoners”.
III. Reporting on the UN General Assembly RtoP debate
1. Ban Ki Moon and R2P
Foreign Policy in Focus
3 August 2009
Kofi Annan's greatest achievement as UN secretary general was his deft steering of the UN General Assembly to accept the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine at the 2005 World Summit.
(…) Annan's successor Ban Ki Moon is a staunch supporter of the concept of R2P. The report he delivered last week, as requested in 2005, framed the discussion in a way that precluded reopening the principle. But opponents at the General Assembly and their ideological allies outside were sedulously determined to weaken R2P in practice as much as possible.
(…) To avert attempts to reverse the 2005 declaration R2P's proponents, not least the UN secretariat, are keeping to a tightly written script. R2P isn't the same as humanitarian intervention, they argue. Its three pillars are the responsibility of sovereign states to prevent crimes against their people, the responsibility of the international community to detect and avert such criminal situations, and the responsibility to apply varying degrees of coercion against the perpetrators from monitoring to sanctions to, if necessary, military intervention.
(…) Ban can do a great deal to foment that global opinion, and is giving every appearance of wanting to do so. While the U.S. press treats Ban as invisible, the rest of the world has leant him their ears. In a recent global poll, he was the second most trusted global figure after Obama. Only global public opinion can force the P5 to live up to their responsibilities — the first of which is to ensure that no regime, not even their close friends, has a guaranteed veto against international action.
The single most significant step the United States could take to disarm some of the critics is to reverse John Bolton's dubiously legal "unsigning" of the Rome Treaty on the International Criminal Court. Washington can hardly call upon the Sudanese to respect the indictment of a court that it has refused to accept itself. To ensure greater global public support for R2P — and answer some of the legitimate charges of the doctrine's critics — the United States must end its own double standards on international treaties and military intervention. Obama is more likely than any president in 40 years to make moves in that direction, so R2P has more of a future than it did a year ago.
For more information on the recent July UN debate on RtoP at the UN, please see our reporting on the event
(full report coming soon)
2. The State’s Duty to Protect: Enforcement in Question
George M. Anderson
10 August 2009
A nation-state’s duty to support and defend its population, known as the responsibility to protect, or R2P, was the subject of a debate at the United Nations General Assembly in July. (…)The July debate, the first on the subject at the United Nations since 2005, reflected the fact that not all member states agree on how to implement the three pillars that support it.
(…)The very concept of R2P stems from a positive view of sovereignty as responsibility. But past events like those in Rwanda, as well as ongoing conflicts in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, show that this positive view of sovereignty is not shared by all. The three pillars of R2P are not thought to be of equal height, and what rests on top of them can therefore be unbalanced. The answer may well lie, as d’Escoto Brockmann said in his opening statement, in the creation of “a more just and equal world order, including in the economic and social sense, as well as a Security Council.” In the meantime more needs to be done to build trust and to recognize that pillar three may provide the only solution to some otherwise intractable situations. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it in an open letter to the member states, “If a state cannot or will not prevent or end these crimes, then the international community must...take decisive action...by protecting vulnerable peoples when States are unwilling to do so.”
Most would not deny that the R2P principle has been misused by powerful nation-states. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said that it had been inappropriately used in conflicts like the largely American-led invasion of Iraq. But there have been some notable victories. In his report, the secretary general spoke approvingly of the way the international community’s timely intervention in Kenya took place early enough to forestall further bloodshed after the disputed election of 2008. As he put it, “If the international community acts early enough, the choice need not be a stark one between doing nothing and using force.” Less than stark choices are now available, if the needed political will is brought to bear.
IV. Responsibility to Protect in South East Asia
1. COMMENTARY: The Moro Question and Gov't's Responsibility to Protect
Datu Michael O. Mastura
7 August 2009
Michael O. Mastura is a lawyer, historian, a former representative of Maguindanao to Congress and now a senior member of the MILF peace panel
600,000 Moro IDPs live under dire conditions in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, as a result of fighting between the army and rebel groups, in what the Norwegian Refugee Council calls “the most neglected displacement situation in 2008”
A year ago today the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that resulted in civil chaos in Muslim Mindanao. By our front-man diarist account, the aborted signing of MOA-AD on August 5, 2008 and its subsequent litigation paradoxically spurred the spiral of violent politics that has turned into hard barriers to mutual trust.
(…)In the language of diplomacy, the responsibility to protect embraces core principles vetted in gradualism involving less intrusive and coercive measure. Before the principle of non-intervention yields to responsibility to prevent and the responsibility to react and the responsibility to rebuild, it has to be established that a population is suffering from serious harm. The state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert the harm resulting from internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure. The crucial point with this fragile Mindanao situation is creating a “vacuum” of ungovernable territory and the tragic problems (IDPs, disease, famine, poverty) that they can cause might trigger the prospects of great power competition.
(…) “Prevention is the single most important dimension” says the ICISS Report on the responsibility to protect. For brevity, prevention option has to be exhausted before intervention is contemplated plus more commitment and resources must be devoted to it. As a basic principle, the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself guided by the obligations inherent in the concept of sovereignty. Yet, as most commentators observe, the sovereignty/intervention boundary likewise needs an alibi (pretext) because international relations is an arena for the contestation of meanings. Where the boundaries of supposed “domestic” and “international communities” intersect during interventionary activity, it becomes less distinct. Researchers stress here the importance of casting meanings in particular ways that enables “specific forms of practice to take place legitimately in the eyes of a supposed interpretive community.”
As the General Assembly has started debating R2P only last July 23, the Frontman Diarist takes the humanitarian condition of the 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mindanao a priority attention on ground “reaction to catastrophe.” The logic of protection is not about legitimacy of armed interference, but that the progressive and conservative versions are radically different. In this debate, the Economist reports (07/25/2009) that the critics of R2P link the concept to the American “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq and Kosovo along with the Russian “rescue mission” in Georgia. Progressives in civil society mark the scaling down of numbers of victims deliberately as one form of “statistical genocide” or as factually hiding those who have caused harm, imposed coercion, or taken property violate human rights. The International Displacement Monitoring Centre finds the reported figures of 600,000 IDPs large scale and a typically “conscience-shocking” situation. Whereas the Norwegian Refugee Council accounts for the episode as “the most neglected crisis”—a critical element of inability to act—on the part of the Philippine state it has been recurring as far back as the days of martial rule in 1972. Today noncombatant Moro IDPs are at risk of mass starvation at temporary shelters once more. Survivors of atrocities from ground attacks and of collateral damages from air strikes used disproportionally are only briefly sampled. (…)
State practice in intervention for human protection purposes is supportable when major harm to civilians is occurring or imminent. Progressive and conservative versions of the source of domestic calamities go beyond the “reasonable prospects” to avert human sufferings. While it may be a matter for argument that “systematic physical removal of people” is a criterion form of “ethnic cleansing” in several towns of Maguindanao and Lanao Norte, the roles in establishing these conditions is unmentioned. Where is the contention and who are responsible? The humanitarian tragedy in Mindanao presents factual data that the AFP was/is actively harming the Moro communities with “use of excessive force” such as heavy artillery bombardments. I’ve been tracing the logic of human protection since the brutalization of Moro IDPs is compounded by a natural disaster from flash flooding of villages along the banks of the Mindanao Great River, and the Liguasan Marshes and wetlands. In the broad criteria, I’ve identified anticipatory overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophe where this state is “unwilling or unable to cope” and thus a significant loss of life is occurring or threatened.
2. Beyond ‘deploring’ Burma’s ‘unjust decision’
Washington Post Editorial
13 August 2009
The military junta’s decision on Tuesday to extend for another 18 months the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s rightful ruler, came as no surprise. She frightens Gen. Than Shwe and his cronies. No doubt they cannot understand her popularity, humility or moral courage. So they keep her locked up, as they have for most of the years since her democratic party won, and was cheated out of, an overwhelming electoral victory in 1990.
(…)The armed forces routinely wage war against ethnic groups, with rape and forced labor among the favored weapons. Do the leaders of other nations, who a few years back puffed out their chests and took upon themselves the “responsibility to protect” the vulnerable populations of the world, have any response?
There are measures that could be tried: coordinated financial sanctions aimed at the leaders who profit from their compatriots’ misery, for example, or a real arms embargo—particularly apt given recent reports of Burmese cooperation with North Korea in nuclear affairs.
(…)Russia and China, defenders of despots, would be obstacles, but perhaps not insuperable ones, if the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe made this a priority.
And where is the United States? Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced early in her tenure a review of US policy toward Burma. While the sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi was taking place, that review was suspended, leaving the administration surprisingly unready to respond to Tuesday’s events. The review will be resumed now—with, we would hope, a sense of urgency that has been wanting so far.
V. Related Publications
1. Greater expectations: UN peacekeeping & civilian protection
29 July 2009
The brutal reality of modern day conflict and the recognition of an international responsibility to protect civilians in times of crisis has made peacekeeping more important — and more controversial — than ever. As the nature of peacekeeping has evolved, the recent European Union and United Nations peacekeeping forces in Chad and the Central African Republic illustrate key lessons on how to meet this challenge of peacekeeping and civilian protection. The U.S. should support and promote new developments in peacekeeping operations in order to help create an effective method to protect civilians.
Peacekeepers today are routinely mandated to protect civilians under imminent threat of violence. Yet, there is no clear doctrine to tell military peacekeepers how to make a protection mandate work. Furthermore "peace enforcement" — when one or more parties to the conflict do not consent to the deployment of peacekeepers — is frequently not appropriate for UN peacekeepers to undertake. This requires new tools such as the developing African Union Standby capability or the European Union rapid deployment capacity.
(…)There are clear steps the U.S. government can take to increase the overall effectiveness of global peacekeeping forces and to support the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations as it works to improve peacekeeping forces around the world. Some of these steps are relatively simple, such as continuing to pay U.S. peacekeeping dues in full and on time and working with the UN to provide standardized peacekeeping training. However, the U.S. should also be willing to deploy U.S. forces and 'enabling' assets such as engineering units, and strategic lift capabilities to help missions deploy quickly and completely. (…)
The world is beginning to understand that we all have a responsibility to protect people from violence, genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Learning from the experiences of EUFOR and MINURCAT will help future missions operate more effectively, and ensure that greater numbers of people are protected from harm.
2. Sudan Human Rights Monitor
The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies
The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies has published its first issue of the “Sudan Human Rights Monitor.” The initiative aims to give monthly overviews of major human rights incidents in Sudan, with this issue focusing on human rights violations occurring in Sudan between March and May 2009.
Should you like to receive future editions, please send an e-mail to
with your contact information.
Thanks to Ramon Broers for compiling this listserv