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Welcome to Brazil's version of 'responsibility to protect'
Conor Foley – The Guardian
10 April 2012
 
It is difficult to follow the current debate about "humanitarian intervention" in Syria without being struck by the wearying familiarity of so many of the arguments. (…)
 
(…) What is also striking is how its protagonists routinely talk past one another, assuming the worst possible motives of their opponents and rarely acknowledging the other side might occasionally have a point. If you are opposed to an intervention – no matter how impractical or counter-productive – you are a cowardly appeasing, racist who does not care about suffering in the affected country. If you support it – in any circumstances – you are a neocon imperialist with the white phosphorous of Fallujah on your hands.
 
During her visit to Washington this week, Brazil's president, Dilma Rouseff, raised the hope that another type of debate is possible. Brazil has moved from dictatorship to democracy within the collective memory of most Brazilians. Rousseff herself was imprisoned and tortured under the dictatorship. Brazilians can therefore look at events such as the Arab spring, the reawakening of democracy in Burma or events in Zimbabwe, Haiti and Mali with personalised affinity.
 
At her first speech to the UN general assembly, last November, Rousseff raised the concept of a "responsibility while protecting". Her government followed this up with a position paper, setting out what this might mean in practice. The Economist this week dismissed the document arguing that: "Even some experienced and sympathetic diplomatic observers in Brasília say they have no idea what concrete difference this would make on the ground" and it is true that it rather fudges of how and when the UN security council should authorise the tactical use of force. Nevertheless the same could be said of the original "responsibility to protect" (R2P) document, that the interventionists promoted. The Brazilian paper's real significance may be in showing how its own diplomacy is developing.
 
Brazil abstained on the UN security council resolution authorising intervention in Libya, and has abstained or voted against interventions on several other occasions. However, it also led the UN mission to Haiti and is seeking a permanent seat on the security council. Rousseff's visit to Washington is part of this drive, although so far the US has only acknowledged Brazil's "aspirations". (…)
 
(…) The shift is a sign of the way that the balance of power and influence is changing in the world, particularly since the global economic crisis. China is now Brazil's main trading partner and the country neither wants nor needs western loans. Brazil has more diplomats in Africa than Britain. It is a creditor to the IMF, provides development assistance to 65 countries. It is also promoting forums such as India-Brazil-South Africa (Ibsa) and Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) as well as the G20. If these bodies were also to adopt the Brazilian position on interventions it could mark a noticeable step forward in the debate.
 
Proponents and opponents of "humanitarian intervention" share a western-centric assumption that the only countries affected are the interveners and those being intervened in. Some still find it difficult to acknowledge the wider ramifications of one country setting aside international law to take upon itself the role of judge, jury and executioner. The task of those who genuinely believe in the notion of a responsibility to protect is to recast its application in a multipolar world.
 
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