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16 May 2008

In a major new Briefing Report, the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, one of four regional associates of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect in New York, argues that whilst moral outrage is an appropriate response to the tragically ineffective manner in which the authorities in Myanmar/Burma have addressed the humanitarian crisis in the wake of Cyclone

Nargis, co-opting the Responsibility to Protect to justify a coercive aid disbursement, is not.

Frustrated that the Burmese generals delayed and blocked much needed humanitarian assistance to its suffering population, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed on 7 May that the UN Security Council invoke the Responsibility to Protect in order to deliver emergency aid without the consent of the Myanmar/Burma government.

But the Centre concludes that the Responsibility to Protect does not apply at this stage because the principle does not mean protecting people from all imaginable threats. At the 2005 World Summit, when United Nations member states agreed that there is a Responsibility to Protect, they limited its scope to case of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

In international law, crimes against humanity are defined as widespread or systematic attacks directed against civilians. Although the government's response has been deplorable, there is no indication at present that it has committed such violations.

The Centre argues that invoking the Responsibility to Protect in relation to Cyclone Nargis is impractical and counter-productive. Without the cooperation of the government and regional neighbours, aid agencies and UN are unlikely to be able to deliver sufficient aid rapidly enough to stem the humanitarian.

Instead, the Centre proposes four courses of action. First, the most effective strategy to date for governments and aid agencies alike has been bilateral negotiations with the government of Myanmar/Burma. All interested governments should focus on assisting those efforts. Second, ASEAN is well-placed to coordinate multilateral efforts alongside the UN. Concerned governments should support ASEAN.s disaster relief teams and the proposed UN-ASEAN partnerships to coordinate humanitarian relief, raise funds and ease logistical supplies. Third, India and China have important roles to play as the major powers in the region. Governments and donors can work more effectively if they cooperate and coordinate with India and China. Finally, there are alternative pathways at the UN, and both China and ASEAN members have indicated a willingness to pursue these alternatives.

Time is running out for the survivors in the Irrawaddy Delta region. Rather than grandstanding by inappropriately invoking new international principles, concerned governments and commentators should focus on those measures most likely to provide pathways for the effective and timely delivery of life-saving aid.

The Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect also released a briefing on the application of the Responsibility to Protect to Burma in light of the humanitarian crisis following Cyclone Nargis. As stated in the report, "The Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect shares the view of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General [Edward Luck] ]that [R2P does not apply to Burma/Myanmar], because placing restrictions on the delivery of aid does not constitute a prima facie breach of one of the four crimes that the Responsibility to Protect applies to: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing."

Full report is available at:

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