Right to Intervene and Right to Protect: Dilemmas of Humanitarianism in Syria- Analysis
23 November 2011
Marika Alpini is a Research Associate at the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), think-tank based in UAE and Lebanon which offers consult to media, think tanks, NGOs, militaries and governments of the Middle East, and international private about military and strategic affairs.
(…) As a consequence of the doubtful effectiveness of the “right to intervene” and “humanitarian interventions,” another international norm, referring to the principle of “responsibility to protect” (R2P), was created to justify external intervention in the case of human rights violations committed by a state. This norm, whose importance has been remarked in various UN resolutions and reports, prompts the international community’s intervention when a state does not fulfil its responsibility to protect its citizens from what are defined “mass atrocities.” According to the R2P doctrine, sovereignty is seen as a “responsibility” and the state is retained accountable for its citizens’ wellbeing.
R2P comprises a broader range of peaceful tools such as political, economic and social measures in order to prevent and halt these crimes perpetrated in a state and uses military force as the last resort. Parts of the R2P measures are therefore economic sanctions, which have already been multilaterally implemented against Syria, as well as the different degrees of diplomatic engagement.
Yet, there can be also some incongruences pointed out regarding the attitude of the international community towards the application of this norm, which has been called upon for the intervention in Libya. First of all, it calls for the international community’s intervention – with the UN acting as governing body – only when the crimes committed reflect one of the four mentioned categories. For Rwanda and Srebrenica, cases of genocide could be recognized as such only after the massacres had been accomplished and the victims could be counted. Secondly, it seems highly unlikely that given the veto power within the Security Council, an objective assessment of human rights violations will be applied, for example towards Chechnya, as it has been applied against an isolated leader such as Gaddafi.
On the other hand, economic sanctions, used as diplomatic tool against violent regimes, appeared to have collected in the past twenty years more failures than successes. The humanitarian crisis and increased wealth of organized crime in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as well as the worsening economic conditions leading to stronger nationalism in Milosevic’s Serbia before the Kosovo War are just the most evident examples. In Libya, they were considered successful in forcing Gaddafi to abandon his plans related to stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Yet, they have remarkably affected the long-lasting economic stagnation of the country and as the latest events showed, they were not overall very effective in changing the nature of the regime. (…)
If the final goal of the measures embraced by humanitarian interventions and R2P is to guarantee “human security” for the citizens of a state, then an approach with longer-term views should be adopted. “Human security,” as defined by the UN, aims at guaranteeing “freedom from fear and freedom from want” to the citizens of a country and opposes the traditional conception of national security, because it links national, regional and global stability to people-centred security, rather than to state security against external threats.
International assistance exclusively to the deposition of a brutal dictatorship without an objective assessment of the risks to the political, economic and social contexts of a country, is not likely to produce security, peace and well-being for the population. A regime-change occurring for external intervention and nation-building implemented exclusively by the international community are more likely to build puppet or failing states, rather than sustainable and democratic statehood in Syria. The interventions occurring in the past fifteen years provide many of these examples.
A strong democratic consciousness clearly is emerging from Syria; the international community is now calling to assist the formation of democratic structures that could guarantee a real resolution of the situation in Syria. To achieve this goal, a more coherent and unbiased approach towards human rights protection and violations is required from the international and regional organizations involved, as well as from Western, Arab and GCC countries. If the final aim is to protect civilians from state violence in a sustainable way, it must be recognized that humanitarian interventions and R2P measures might be too narrow scope. As long as national political and economic interests prevail over real “human security” goals, the principles of humanitarianism in international politics will be seriously endangered. Syria is now posing many of these dilemmas to the international community.
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