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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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The Sunday Times
Neville de Silva
28 September 2008

Mention R2P, the international shorthand for Responsibility to Protect and people blow hot and cold. In Sri Lanka it would be mainly hot. Particularly so after former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture last year when he introduced R2P to a Sri Lankan audience as head of the International Crisis Group that is in the forefront of the advocacy of this concept.()

Many are suspicious that R2P is a route to military intervention by another name by the powerful in the affairs of the small and the weak. Again the answer is no. Military intervention is the absolute last resort they say. Before military intervention is even considered there is a repertoire of other actions that are possible and should be employed. These include capacity building with the state concerned, political and diplomatic pressure and even economic sanctions to make a state listen and respond. Proponents of R2P would argue that military intervention cannot be undertaken without such action being endorsed by the UN Security Council. But in the global south it is being asked what would happen if the Security Council does not approve of it. Would a coalition of like-minded states then decide to take matters into its own hands as NATO did in Bosnia in the ruptured Yugoslavia? Or would there be a right to humanitarian intervention invoked as India did in Sri Lanka in 1987. ()

It is not enough to say that the emphasis has changed, for instance from Bernard Kouchners right to intervene to the responsibility to protect, the consideration being the people in danger. Any kind of intervention has to be rule-based and there must be a threshold of criteria. Violations of human rights cannot and must not be a reason for military intervention unless such violations are of catastrophic proportions and are likely to get worse. The argument cannot be purely in moral terms. There has to be a realistic assessment of the costs of that intervention, whether such military action would improve the situation of those affected or make it worse. If it is the latter then the rationale for intervention does not exist.

In any event any military intervention must have the authority of the Security Council behind it. If the SC is found lacking, then reform or refine the SC, not leave the matter in the hands of a powerful few which would be seen-and rightly so- as the return of imperialism, refined but imperialism all the same.


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