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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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Mike Blanchfield
4 February 2009

Now that Barack Obama has replaced George W. Bush, the time is right for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives to adopt the Responsibility to Protect anti-genocide doctrine that its Liberal predecessors helped create, says one of the concept's creators.

"Under the Harper government, we really seem to have retreated from any form of an active role or presence on the world stage," said Ramesh Thakur, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., and one of the original co-authors of Responsibility to Protect report in 2001. ()

The former Liberal government struck the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001, which created what has become known as R2P an international doctrine that aims to prevent future genocide.

At its core, R2P lays out the framework for when the international community should intervene in the internal affairs of a country for example, by invading with its own military if the government is violating the rights of its citizens. Although it predates R2P, the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia to save ethnic Albanians in Kosovo is viewed as a good example of how this is supposed to work.

The UN endorsed R2P at its 2005 World Summit and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is working on a report on its role in the organization's future. In the interim, critics say the doctrine is nothing more than empty rhetoric, citing the ongoing carnage in Darfur, the eastern Congo, or even the slow response of the humanitarian effort to get aid to Burmese cyclone victims last year living under the Myanmar military junta.

Others totalitarian regimes, in particular reject R2P because they see it as an excuse to topple them. In Canada, Harper's Conservatives have had little, if anything, to say about the doctrine in three years. Many believe this is because it is so closely associated with the Liberals particularly the human security agenda of former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.

Thakur urged the Harper government to put its own brand on the policy, or get behind something similar, such as nuclear non-proliferation. He said R2P is one of Canada's greatest international achievements along with the Ottawa treaty to ban landmines and its efforts to create the International Criminal Court. "If they identify these with the Liberal party, it does not preclude them from identifying other areas that (could) become the legacy of the Tories," said Thakur.

That is essentially the same advice Harper received from a blue-ribbon panel of experts assembled by Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa that presented the prime minister with a "blueprint" on how to engage Obama on global issues.
"An Obama foreign policy will almost certainly be pragmatically internationalist resembling that of President Bill Clinton," says the Carleton report. "Many of the ideas, such as an emphasis on 'common security' and the Responsibility to Protect, being served up by Obama's Democratic advisers, were Canadian inventions." ()


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