Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

from Global News Journal:

Saviors or conquerors? UN mulls “responsibility to protect”

By Patrick Worsnip
    
What's more important -- the right of a sovereign state to manage its affairs free of outside interference or the duty of the international community to intervene when massive human rights violations are being committed in a country?
 
The United Nations -- nothing if not a talking shop -- has been debating that question this week in the General Assembly. It goes to the heart of what the U.N. is all about.
 
At issue is a declaration issued four years ago by a summit of more than 150 world leaders asserting the "responsibility to protect" -- R2P in U.N. jargon -- populations threatened with genocide or other mass atrocities. It was a somewhat belated response to widespread criticism of the United Nations for failing to stop massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s.
    
The carefully crafted declaration said the responsibility began with the government of the country concerned. If that failed, it foresaw a sliding scale of international action, ranging from advice through mediation to -- in a last resort -- intervention by force. And such a use of force could only be authorized by the Security Council, meaning the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China would all have to agree.
 
Cautious as it was, the summit document was seen by many advocacy groups as a step on the road to fulfilling their dream that if a government was committing atrocities against its people, the United Nations would march in and stop it.
 
In the real world, U.N. officials say, that is not going to happen, at least under the peacekeeping rules that have applied in recent decades. These do not authorize U.N. forces to go to war against the national army of a sovereign state -- a move that would amount to invasion. Witness the six-year-old conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur -- branded by some as genocide -- where a U.N./African Union peacekeeping force is only now being slowly deployed with the consent of the Khartoum government. The only time that R2P has been invoked in practice -- and even then retrospectively -- was in former U.N. secretary-General Kofi Annan's mission to mediate in post-election violence in Kenya last year, U.N. officials say.
 
This week's debate was to take stock of R2P and discuss how to take it forward, although no immediate action is expected. It came against the background of a determined attempt by radicals led by General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto, a former Nicaraguan Sandinista government minister, to kick the issue into the long grass.


For D'Escoto and those who agree with him, R2P is code for an attempt by big Western powers to impose their will on the weak. In a contentious "concept note" issued to all U.N. members he declared that "colonialism and interventionism used 'responsibility to protect' arguments." One member of a panel of experts D'Escoto convened to launch the debate, U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, said R2P-type arguments had been used to justify Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria and Nazi Germany's pre-World War Two move into Czechoslovakia.
 
While some radical states, such as Venezuela, echoed D'Escoto's line in the assembly debate, human rights groups expressed relief that most cautiously supported a strictly defined interpretation of R2P and backed proposals by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for developing it. Ban has proposed periodic reviews of how countries have implemented R2P and regular reports by himself on the issue. "To those that argued this week that the U.N. was not ready to make a reality of the commitment to end mass atrocities, the majority of the General Assembly gave its answer: you are wrong," said Monica  Serrano of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Despite that, there have been clear signs of concern among developing countries that unless tightly controlled, R2P could be used in support of future Iraq-style invasions of countries that have angered the big powers.
 
What's your view?

Talk is not cheap for Kenya activists

Photo

In Kenya, it may be dangerous to speak your mind.

In a country that once prided itself on its freedom of speech and lively public debate,
political activists now say their lives are being threatened, and a U.N. special investigator has said that Kenyan police systematically intimidate human rights defenders.

“Dozens of prominent and respected human rights defenders have been targeted in a blatant campaign designed to silence individual monitors and instill fear in civil society organizations at large”, said U.N. Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings Phillip Alston, in a report he released on April 7.

Trouble ahead for Bashir?

Photo

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has orchestrated a defiant response to international efforts to arrest him for war crimes in Darfur but this is seen as hiding vulnerabilities that could signal trouble ahead.

Bashir has been travelling in the region in defiance of the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. His travels demonstrate the court’s inability to arrest him and have won support from Arab countries and at home. He has also closed down aid groups accused of helping the court and addressed a string of nationalistic rallies.

The promised land?

Photo

Several hundred Africans have drowned off the coast of Libya in an attempt to escape to a better life in Europe.

The head of the United Nations refugee agency says the tragedy marks a grim start to what he calls the “smuggling season”, when the weather gets better and the perilous sea voyages pick up again after the winter.

Time to stop aid for Africa? An argument against

Photo

Earlier this month, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argued that Africa needs Western countries to cut long term aid that has brought dependency, distorted economies and fuelled bureaucracy and corruption. The comments on the blog posting suggested that many readers agreed. In a response, Savio Carvalho, Uganda country director for aid agency Oxfam GB, says that aid can help the continent escape poverty – if done in the right way:

In early January, I travelled to war-ravaged northern Uganda to a dusty village in Pobura and Kal parish in Kitgum District. We were there to see the completion of a 16km dirt road constructed by the community with support from Oxfam under an EU-funded programme.

Ivory Coast’s election dilemma

Photo

ivorycoast_soldiers_ballots.jpgThe authorities in Ivory Coast have now embarked on what is supposed to be the last step of issuing identity papers to its citizens. Those who lost their papers during the war or never had any in the first place and missed out on previous hearings across the country are getting another chance .

This, in theory, will then allow those old enough to register to vote in elections, which are due to take place on November 30. These are the elections meant to end a crisis that was sparked by a short war in 2002-2003 and left the country, the world’s top cocoa producer and home to one of the region’s most stable and flourishing economies, divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.

What chance of success for Zimbabwe talks?

Photo

rtr20ed8.jpgZimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC are holding talks in Pretoria aimed at thrashing out a power-sharing deal to end the country’s political crisis.

President Robert Mugabe, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and a smaller MDC faction signed a framework for the talks in South Africa on Monday — a deal that South African leader Thabo Mbeki said committed Zimbabwe’s political rivals to an intense timetable.

What hope for Somalia?

Photo

Fighting in Mogadishu. Kidnaps of foreign aid workers. Hijacks by pirates. Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The news from Somalia seems to be relentlessly negative, writes Reuters Somalia correspondent Guled Mohamed. So it has been for the best part of 17 years since warlords overran the country in 1991 to usher in the modern period of chaos in this part of the Horn of Africa.

  •