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Re-Branding Responsibility to Protect, Gareth Evans Says Somalia's Not Covered

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 17 -- If Somalia, where civilians are killed every day in a cross fire between Ethiopian occupiers and Islamic insurgents, does not trigger the so-called Responsibility to Protect, what good is R2P?  Australia's former foreign minister Gareth Evans was asked this question on September 17, as he pitched his R2P book to a handful of reporters including Inner City Press. "It's not a classic situation," Evans said of Somalia. "It has the capacity of deteriorating into mass atrocity crimes."  

  But how many deaths does it take? Evan listed the now-stemmed violence in Kenya as "classic R2P;" a photograph from Kenya is on the jacket of his book and he noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited R2P during the Kenya crisis.

  But the death toll by violence in Somalia is higher, and there is no end in sight. When Inner City Press pursued the issue, Evans turned to a fellow staffer of the International Crisis Group, who gently disagreed with her boss, saying that Somalia is a classic case, in that the government is not only unwilling but also unable to protect the people of the country. She acknowledged that war crimes are being committed, including by the Ethiopian troops.  Somalia would be R2P, she said, except no one wants to go.

  Evans made this same point about Darfur, noting that while none of the 22 needed helicopters has been given, there are some 11,872 suitable helicopters available around the world. Still, Evans argued against invoking R2P in Darfur, saying that it failed the "balance of consequences" test, in that intervention would put at risk the 2.5 million internally displaced people, and the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Gareth Evans and Ban Ki-moon, R2P in Somalia not shown

  Evans rather posited Burundi as a victory for R2P, a concept which he said needs to be "re-branded." The first conceptual switch, he said, was from the French-inspired idea of the right to intervene to R2P, which is at least phrased from the point of view of the victims. Still, it was pointed out to him that R2P is often called just a reinterpretation of the white man's burden. Evans countered that on a recent trip to New Delhi and Islamabad, he found "senior levels" of the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministries open to R2P, more so that the "multilaterals here" at the UN, who he said are suffering from "buyer's remorse" after agreeing in 2005 to R2P.

  Inner City Press asked Evans if he thinks China and Russia will invoke the concept any time soon. After pointing out Chinese representation on the High Level Panel that formalized the idea, Evans criticized Russia's citing to R2P for its actions in South Ossetia. "To defend your own nationals is not R2P," he said, "it's national self-defense, under Article 51 of the UN charter."  He said that Russia "misused" the concept of R2P, while in his view France and Bernard Kouchner only "put at risk the consensus" by linking R2P to General Than Shwe's blockage of foreign aid to Myanmar after cyclone Nargis.

  Evans said that he spoke to "a Burmese on the ground" who said that the warships off Myanmar's coast in the cyclone's aftermath "did concentrate the generals' minds." This is not dissimilar to arguing that the International Criminal Court prosecutor's request for an arrest warrant against Sudanese president Al Bashir is making him act better. It's a circular argument. If the accused keeps acting badly, it proves the accusation.  If the accused starts acting better, then the accusation helped. The accusation, then, can never be disproved. White man's burden, indeed...

"The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All," by Gareth Evans, Brookings Institution Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8157-2504-6

Watch this site, and this (UN) debate.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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