Colombo, September 15 (newsin.asia): In his address to the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on September 21 on: ‘The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism’, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa asked the UN to place due emphasis on the sovereign equality of member states; observe non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states; and respect their territorial integrity. He also pointed out that partnerships between member states and the UN would be best when no country is held hostage to the interests of a few.
What the Lankan President had in mind was the interference of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in post-war Sri Lanka on the issue of war crimes allegedly committed by Lankan forces in the last phase of Eelam War IV and Colombo’s reluctance to implement UNHRC-prescribed mechanisms to address these issues. Between 2012 and 2019, several resolutions were passed against Sri Lanka, the last few co-sponsored by Sri Lanka itself. The UNHRC was intervening on the principle the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which Sri Lanka and many other developing countries see as a cloak to hide a bid to re-establish ex-colonial powers’ hegemony.
In the eyes of the Lankan government and the majority of Lankans, the bases on which the UNHRC issued the prescriptions were totally one-sided, with a blind eye turned to the atrocities committed by the LTTE, described by the US as the world’s deadliest terror group.
In 2009, Jorge Heine, a Distinguished Fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada, who was also Chile’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2004 to 2007, wrote thus about the West’s bias: “ While 64 years after the end of the Second World War the Allies continue to celebrate with great fanfare the end of a war that lasted six years, Europeans now have the nerve to accuse the Sri Lankan government of engaging in triumphalism — this a bare month after ending a war that lasted 25 years and inflicted great suffering on Sri Lanka.”
“The main task for the international community today is to help Sri Lanka in its reconstruction effort in the North and the East, and in addressing the very legitimate grievances of the minority Tamil community. The last thing South Asia needs is a finger-pointing exercise aimed at questioning the Sri Lankan state’s legitimate right of self-defense and of using military force to respond to a separatist uprising to protect its territorial integrity. The end of the Sri Lankan conflict should be seen for what it is: a victory of one of Asia’s oldest and most established democracies over one of the great scourges of our time: terrorism.”
With the majority of Sri Lankan sharing Heine’s view, no wonder even the pro-West Yahapalanaya government (2015-2014) could not implement the UNHRC resolutions it co-sponsored. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa became President, Lanka quit co-sponsorship.
Earlier, an internal UN report by Charles Petrie talked about doubts in the UN about the application of R2P in Sri Lanka. In an article in passblue.com, Alice Valvov stated: “Differing perceptions among Member States and the Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action.”
Responsibility To Protect
R2P is based on a rejection of the traditional Westphalian concept of sovereignty and national security. In his 1992 “Agenda for Peace” report, the then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali held that the “time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty has passed; its theory was never matched by reality.” In 1994, the UN Development Report introduced the concept of “Human Security”, saying that “for too long, the concept of security has been equated with the threats to a country’s borders.”
In 1996, Frances Deng, introduced the concept of “dual social contract”: one between each government and its citizens, and the other between nation-states and the international community as a whole. Sovereignty should not merely be regarded as the right to be left alone, but as the responsibility to discharge governmental duties, Deng said.
Four year later, in 2000, in response to calls for humanitarian intervention in the face of atrocities committed in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada set up the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The ICISS said that state sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself. However, if a state proves unwilling or unable to live up to its responsibilities, i.e. if it violates basic human rights or does not prevent such violations, the international community has a residual responsibility to act.
R2P In Practice
R2P was unanimously adopted in 2005 at the UN World Summit. But how does it work in practice? While the UN has halted conflicts in many countries with both non-military and non-military interventions, in many cases, the Western powers, with or without UN sanction, have conducted R2P operations with hidden selfish and non-humanitarian motives.
Take the case of the Libyan civil War in 2011. Originally, the UN authorized NATO only to impose a no-fly zone and ceasefire. But NATO air strikes not only inflicted civilian casualties but rapidly became involved in a bid to overthrow the Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The attraction of Libya’s vast natural resources—not democratic or humanitarian concerns—was the real impetus for the intervention. Libya was one of the world’s largest oil producers, producing 1.6 million barrels a day. It’s sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority, was one of the largest in the world controlling assets worth approximately US$56 billion, including over 100 tons of gold reserves.
During the Libyan action, accusations of Western imperialism were made by many leaders of states including Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Raúl Castro of Cuba, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and India’s Manmohan Singh.
In the guise of protecting hapless Syrians from a dictator, Bashar el- Assad, the West, led by the US, took military action essentially to put its agents, the rebel Syrian groups, in power. That action was taken without a US Security Council mandate. Russia disapproved the regime change agenda. The world’s poor are made to watch Syria being an endless theater of war with destruction and displacement taking place on a daily basis. There is no talk of applying R2P against Myanmar for expelling more than a million Rohingyas because the West is eying the resource rich Rakhine region.
Distrust of the West led to Third World countries, which were former colonies of the Western nations, to explore ways of getting assistance from their own respective regions to deal with human rights violations or threats to security. The African Union (AU) chalked out its own regional R2P described as the “Ezulwini Consensus.” The basic idea was that Africa should be able to come up with African solutions to African problems in order to prevent foreign powers from exploiting Africa’s internal weaknesses. The basic premise was: “All Africans have a spiritual affinity with each other, and that, having suffered together in the past, they must march together into a new and brighter future.”
The Ezulwini Conensus enshrines the following principles: sovereign equality; non-intervention by member-states; non-use of force; rejection of unconstitutional changes of government; and the AU’s right to intervene in the internal affairs of member-states in the event of gross human rights abuses.
But the basic weakness in Africa’s bid to have its own R2P mechanism is the acute shortage of finances and material. Therefore, it appears that the world’s hegemons will use R2P wherever they can, whether regional groups exist or not.