Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Responsibility to Protect after Libya and Syria

To find out which member of the Syrian regime makes Gareth Evans feel like puking you’ll have to watch the video.

The former Australian Foreign Minister and former CEO of the International Crisis Group, addressed the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law Conference on 20 July 2012.

He spoke about the future of the United Nations initiative, the Responsibility to Protect, in the wake of events in Libya and Syria.

He argued that the Responsibility to Protect needs a real consensus at the United Nations Security Council such as the one that existed for Libya last year. The current crisis in Syria is a “low point of paralysis, even on adopting non-military measures’.
He examined why this consensus has fallen away. Syria is a very different geo-political situation from Libya, not just a breakdown of the Responsibility to Protect. It includes:
  • complex internal sectarian divisions;
  • potentially explosive external regional implications;
  • real anxiety about the democratic credentials of many of those in the opposition;
  • absence of Arab League unanimity in favour of tough action;
  • and a strong Syrian army.
He analysed why there is no consensus, even about sanctions. He argues that many blame how the NATO mandate was carried out in Libya. The BRICs countries believed that civil protection was manifestly exceeded. They accused the US, UK and France of not settling for anything less than regime change, by rejecting ceasefire offers, bombing retreating forces and civilian targets such as presidential palaces. Real debate was resisted in the Security Council and information withheld.
Gareth believes that although “the bruises need to heal, a way forward had opened up”. Brazil has argued that, “the R to P concept needs to be supplemented by a complementary set of principles and procedures, a Responsibility while Protecting”. This set of criteria would be backed up by enhanced monitoring and review processes. This would enable debate of such mandates by the Security Council.
The guidelines could include that:
  • the risk justify the force
  • use of force be primarily to halt the threat/harm
  • every non-military option has been explored
  • there is proportionality – the minimum force necessary to meet the threat
  • there is a balance of consequences –those threatened will be better off
Opposition to R to P continues, with a belief by some members of the Security Council that low-level action such as sanctions will inevitably lead to military action. “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”.
Progress will be hard but, “the alternative is a return to the bad old days of Rwanda, Srebrenica and Kosovo”. Gareth believes that the Responsibility to Protect is here to stay and will evolve. It can be “effective in responding to a whole range of these horrible situations”.
During questions Evans expanded on the Syrian crisis and on Russia’s role there and in the world in general. “Putin’s instincts are wholly undemocratic, unsympathetic to human rights…” “…there are some things that the Russians are saying which have a skerrick of truth to them, namely that the Alawi and Christian and one or two other minorities are at risk…”.

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