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R2P crushed under the boot of cruel reality
Louis A. Delvoie
The Whig
15 February 2013
Geoffrey Johnston has provided readers of this newspaper with four thoughtful and well-documented articles on the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), whereby the international community has the right/duty to intervene if the government of a country is not protecting or is manifestly abusing the human rights of its citizens. He has discussed and ably analyzed some of the problems associated with the implementation of the doctrine. But perhaps there is a little more to be said on this subject, since the problems are so numerous and so varied.(…)
Article 2.7 of the UN Charter states that “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” This article can be and has been interpreted in many ways, but what is certain is that it provides cover for any state that wishes to object to interventions under the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect.(…)
The UN is not a supranational organization, but an international organization. As such it is a collection of nation states, which is no better and no worse than some or all of its member states, which exercise control over its activities. Put another way, it is like the proverbial chain, no stronger than its weakest links. And when it comes to R2P, there are many important weak links, starting with Russia, China and India.(…)
If their domestic situations make the governments of China, India and Russia reluctant to embrace the R2P doctrine, so too do their foreign policy interests. They have demonstrated this repeatedly.
In bringing their civil war to an end in 2009, the forces of the government of Sri Lanka committed widespread human rights violations, which have been well documented by international bodies. But this is a government which is being assiduously courted by both China and India as part of their competition to exercise influence and control in the Indian Ocean. It is therefore most unlikely that either country will do anything to see the Sri Lankan government put in the dock.
In the province of Darfur in Western Sudan, the Sudanese government has been involved in a murderous campaign against the local population. Hundreds of thousands of people have been either killed or displaced due to the actions of the Sudanese armed forces or their irregular allies. But this is the same Sudanese government that has granted oil exploration and drilling rights to Chinese and Indian companies. In their desperate search for new sources of energy to fuel their rapid economic expansions, neither country is going to be enthusiastic to rock the Sudanese boat.(...)
In the case of the bloody civil war now going on in Syria, Russia has steadfastly resisted all attempts to bring serious pressure to bear on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. And there are good Russian foreign policy reasons for this. At one time Russia was a real player in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern affairs, enjoying close and privileged relations with Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
Over the years all of these relations have dissolved, with the exception of that with Syria, a country that is an important customer for Russian military equipment and provides the Russian fleet with port facilities at Tartus. Syria under the Assad regime represents Russia’s last asset in the Middle East. Its disappearance would greatly inhibit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reassert Russia’s role as a great power on the world stage.
It would be most unfair, however, to suggest that only Russia, China and India are responsible for failure to implement the R2P doctrine. In some instances it is simply the nature of the problem that discourages intervention. This is particularly true in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.(…)
The “war weariness” phenomenon would also seem to account for the tepid and limited support that the governments of the United States, Great Britain and Canada have given to the ongoing French military operation to root out Islamist extremists in Mali. Western governments know that there is not a bottomless well of support among their electorates for wars in far-off corners of the world.
The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect is closely associated with the names of four Canadian political leaders: Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock. These were all honourable men deeply preoccupied by the amount of human suffering they witnessed in the world around them. Not content to wring their hands in despair, they devised a new approach to try to alleviate the suffering. Theirs was a noble endeavour full of good intentions.
But they were also remarkably naive if they sincerely believed that good intentions would triumph over political realities and over the hard-core interests of major nation-states. In the real world of today, the Doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect is more likely to wither on the vine than to flourish. Pity.
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