‘R2P cannot turn out to be a tool legitimising big power intervention’
India has told a United Nations meeting on the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) concept that Western air strikes on Libya were a complete violation of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution number 1973.
While this concept grew out of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s, it was perhaps because of the lack of oil there that the important members of the international community decided not to act in both the places, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri said at an interactive dialogue on the report of the U.N. Secretary-General on the “Responsibility to Protect: Timely and decisive action.”
Hoping that the discussion would “contribute meaningfully” in further clarifying the true ambit and scope of R2P, especially in view of the Libya experience, Mr. Puri regretted that the principle grew from the international community’s “troubled conscience” in Rwanda and Srebrenica but “when they chose to do so” in Libya, it was in the fulfilment of a larger objective.
India’s PR to U.N. outlined three fundamental aspects of the concept as New Delhi sees them: (i) R2P cannot be used to address all social evils, including violations of human rights and humanitarian law. Rather it must only be confined to the four identified crimes, i.e., genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity; (ii) the default response of the international community cannot be coercive measures under Chapter VII of the Charter; and (iii) in reality R2P cannot be seen as a pretext for humanitarian intervention, “a concept riddled with inconsistencies and driven by selfish motives on the part of the developed nations.’’
He said R2P also cannot turn out to be a tool legitimising big power intervention on the pretext of protecting populations from the violations of human rights and humanitarian law. It cannot be seen as codifying a system of coercion, providing a tool in the hands of powerful governments to judge weaker states, and encourage regime change primarily on political considerations.
Mr. Puri felt in the light of the Libyan experience, the real problem lay with the responsibility of the international community to step in when a State manifestly fails to meet its responsibility to protect its population from these four crimes. “The Secretary-General’s report clearly acknowledges that controversy still persists on aspects of implementation, in particular with respect to the use of coercive measures to protect population.”
India, said Mr. Puri, was for beginning R2P with an early political engagement with the parties concerned. Any specific needs of the state concerned should be given due consideration and support. “It is only when an honest and serious attempt at pacific settlement fails that the international community, acting under the United Nations, should respond with coercive measures. And the response should again be calibrated and gradual, rather than immediate recourse to Article 42.”
India wanted armed intervention to be a measure of last resort when everything else has failed. Selectivity must be avoided at all cost and the principle must be applied uniformly to all parties to a conflict.
Protecting population from crimes
Mr. Puri also touched upon references in the SG’s report to the responsibility of protecting populations from crimes and violations related to R2P. “This change in phraseology is not appropriate. There are four crimes clearly identified under R2P in the World Summit Outcome Document, which have also been reaffirmed by Security Council resolution 1674. This normative framework cannot be changed at the Secretariat’s sweet will, he asserted.
He felt the time had come to look at both sides of the coin — while the responsibility of each “state to protect its population from the four crimes is accepted in the World Summit Outcome Document, at the same time, greater focus and further understanding is required on the manner in which R2P can be implemented.”
Also, the implementation of R2P requires an effective discharge of responsibility and obligations by states under the U.N. Charter in a balanced and impartial manner.