By Stephen Heidt
Foreign Policy in Focus Commentary
On July 31, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed resolution 1769 authorizing the creation of a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force to be deployed to the Darfur region of Sudan. This resolution has been hailed as a historic landmark on the way to fulfilling the responsibility to protect established in humanitarian law. Supporters of the resolution believe that this peacekeeping force will end the ongoing genocide, which has left 7,000 civilians dead each month.
()This resolution also reveals a vexing complexity in international humanitarian law and response. The UN was originally organized to preserve peace and international security, not protect innocents from genocide. Enshrined in the covenant was the principle of sovereignty by which a state has the supreme authority to manage affairs within its boundaries. This remains one of the more highly respected principles of international law. The United States uses this principle of sovereignty to justify staying outside the International Criminal Court. Sovereignty is also often a shield that genocidal regimes hide behind to continue practices of extermination and ethnic cleansing.
Increasingly, sovereignty directly conflicts with the growing body of international law referred to as the responsibility to protect. Over the last 15 years, the events of Bosnia and Rwanda, among other factors, have challenged the ironclad principle of sovereignty. In Rwanda, in particular, the norm of non-intervention suggested that nations should stand by and watch as Hutus killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis with the most primitive weapons when a few thousand foreign troops tasked with ending the genocide could have saved uncountable lives with very little risk.
()Yet Resolution 1769 reflects current political realities by explicitly stating its respect for Sudans sovereignty. This is a bit like telling the Nazis that they have a right to do whatever they want within their territory but they really need to stop gassing Jews. he fallacy at the heart of our failure in Darfur until now has been the idea that you can stop genocide and ethnic cleansing with the consent of those responsible, David Clark writes in The Guardian. t's almost as if Bosnia never happened. Subverting the inviolable concept of sovereignty in favor of the responsibility to protect will be a long-term process with many obstacles along the way. Until the newer concept becomes enshrined in international law and practice, responding to genocide will require working with some rather unsavory nations.
()The problem of response is compounded by a dearth of information about when and where genocides occur. Nations are generally a bit smarter than Nazi Germany: they dont keep records or publicize genocidal actions. Therefore, detecting initiation and culpability, as well as prosecuting genocide after the fact, has become a more difficult challenge. As long as political leaders can hide behind the twin shields of sovereignty and plausible deniability, response to genocide will be slow to non-existent.
Ultimately, the world needs a more rigorous monitoring system to reduce response time and build political will for action. The World Health Organization has a global disease monitoring program that is more or less uncontroversial since public health risks threaten everyone. A similar system should be developed to address problems of emergent genocide. The more information there is about ongoing genocide, the easier it will be to generate an adequate response. For the world community to shoulder its new responsibility to protect, it needs new tools and capabilities.
In the end, however, no amount of information will compensate for a lack of political will. UN Resolution 1769 is a small but important step in that direction.
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