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Mark Schneider is the vice president of the International Crisis Group. The following essay was published in The Advertiser and is extracted from testimony given to the US Senate on 17 June, 2008. To read his full testimony, please see

THE recent humanitarian crisis in Burma following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis has raised again the question of the policy options available to the international community when governments pose the risk of large-scale loss of human life to their own people.

Darfur, and most recently Zimbabwe, raises the same complex questions of what recourse exists when a government's actions, its failure to act or its inability to act produce massive humanitarian crises. ()

In the Burma/Myanmar context, many voices were heard from aid agencies and others arguing that as a practical matter, military intervention would not work or make matters on the ground even worse for the affected population.

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. Overall the diplomatic pressure did have some effect and the R2P argument was part of it.

In the case of Zimbabwe, if the hijacking of food relief aid continues as well as the widespread denial of food assistance to the political opposition in Zimbabwe continues, we may well have to ask whether we are approaching a similar R2P situation in which crimes against humanity, not just lesser human-rights violations, are involved. At the very least, re-energized diplomatic efforts are urgently called for both, with respect to the humanitarian crisis and with respect to the political crisis. About four million people are in need of food aid.

The case of Darfur is much more clearly a matter ofR2P and the UN Security Council has considered the matter multiple times, authorizing the UN Mission in Sudan ``to use all necessary means to protect UN personnel and civilians under threat of physical violence'', specifically citing R2P in that context.

If there is any indication of the need to make R2P operational, it is Darfur. Resolution after resolution, the UN members have failed to follow through on their commitments - whether to impose a no-fly zone, to act when the Government of Sudan failed to disarm the Janjaweed, to take over by last December from the African Union full operational control of the peacekeeping force, to establish unity of command and, last, to fully deploy the 26,000-strong UN force with the troops needed, whether or not the Government of Sudan approves.

This was not a failure of the doctrine of R2P but the failure of will of the members of the UN to enforce the authority of the Security Council.

What is disturbing is that the willingness to use the full range of other instruments and to maintain unceasing pressure to achieve an end to the crisis has been lacking. Making R2P fully operational remains an ongoing challenge. In the 21st century, surely we are at a stage where norms should protect human life and people rather than the absolutist definitions of state sovereignty coming out of the 17th century.


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