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India’s Role in Preventing Mass Atrocities
Laura Spano
19 October 2012
Laura Spano is the Responsibility to Protect Program Officer at the World Federation of UN Associations.
As a child I always dreamt of traveling to India – what seemed like a country so exotic and so far removed from what I knew – a country of enchanting religions, a country full of colors, red, purples and golds, and a country with diverse and fascinating cultures with beliefs far from my own. Not to mention the amazing food – ummm dreaming of succulent tandoori chicken right now. India was also a country I studied in University during my Politics and Development classes for some of its states’ unique approaches to governance and poverty eradication – think the southern state of Kerala. However, India never really came up in my genocide history or conflict resolution classes and it definitely never came up as a main player in resolving conflict outside its own bordering regions.
But that was years ago when the USA clearly laid claim to the title of Chief of the World Army. Then with a single superpower it was all to easy to blame the “West”, who has the resources and tools, for its failure to prevent mass atrocities in the 90s in places such as Rwanda, Kosovo and Somalia. With changing economic and political times the title of Chief of the World Army is eroding and more and more of the international community is looking to the emerging powers – India, China, Brazil, Russia – to take a leadership role in International Affairs. It is no longer so easy to point the finger towards the United States for failing to stop the killing of innocent lives at the hands of the governments in Sudan, or Syria or Libya. The emerging powers are now acting in a globalized world where they too must find their role in preventing or halting mass atrocities beyond their own borders.
Last week I was fortunate enough to travel to India to hold on a conference on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the role of India in ensuring its effective implementation. The audience – civil society, and UN, government and Embassy officials, and perhaps the most important, the media which reported over 15 articles on the event to promote further discussions with the people of India. With India’s newly appointed leadership role, comes with it responsibility. Yet what role could India possibly have when they are dealing with their own bordering conflicts (think Kashmir) and issues of poverty. This is the question the conference sought to answer. A question even more pertinent as their term in the UN Security Council comes to an end.
There is no doubt that the government of India is supportive of preventing genocide and other large scale atrocities. It has time and time again stated itsbelief that it is the responsibility of the state to provide protection for its own population. India has long participated in external protection too by providing a number of troops for UN peacekeeping operations. However, with recent events in Libya and Syria, India has become more and more cautious about the way in which these kinds of conflicts should be resolved. Feelings of betrayal have emerged as an outcome of NATO’s intervention in Libya which has been associated, by India and others alike, with self-interest of western powers and regime change; a betrayal which is preventing action by many in Syria.
This was not the first time these debates have taken place in an emerging power – a year prior we were in China – at a pivotal time in International Affairs, right after Gadafi’s Libya had fallen to NATO and the rebellion forces. India and China abstained from voting on Resolution 1973 which called for intervention in Libya. Despite China’s ability to veto and stop any intervention they allowed the passing of Resolution 1973 which stated member states could “take all necessary measures…to protect civilians.”  Yet as they saw events unfold in Libya there was no doubt that they were not happy with NATO much less the powers behind NATO’s intervention – USA, France and the UK. They felt they had been tricked by the Western powers.
Yet these were the official opinions of only some of the government representatives at the UN and who sat in the room – more importantly was what the people of China and India had to say about the role of their own government in such matters. While also skeptical of Western powers and the double standards and the self-interest that plays a role in the West choosing which causes to fight, many wanted their own governments to play a larger role. What someone rightly pointed out during one of the conferences was that it’s one thing to criticize the West for its intervention that evidently did halt the conflict from shredding far more blood despite leading to regime change and it’s another to offer an alternative way that would ensure no more blood was shred without it leading to regime change. There is a difference between China and India – China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has veto power where they could have easily vetoed the resolution – India does not. Therefore there is no surprise that in India, these discussions were of course coupled with a larger issue of reforming the UN which would better represent the political climate of today by expanding the P5 to include countries such as India.
Yes, we all agree that prevention is the best policy but we live in a world where policies fail and conflicts erupt. The question remains – in these situations what is the responsibility of the international community. This includes India, China, Brazil and others, not just the USA. It is an interesting question – one that many are just starting to look into. As thousands of people continue to be killed at the hands of the government of Syria and rebellion forces and even more displaced by the conflict – what role do, and better yet, should the emerging powers like India play? (…)
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