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An exceptional option of coercive force

In brief

AU peacekeeper in Darfur

AU peacekeeper in Darfur

The debate on whether humanitarian disaster warrants military intervention goes on two years after the UN World Summit in New York adopted the principle of „R2P”. This acronym stands for the international community’s “responsibility to protect” people from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Many people in developing countries are uncomfortable with the notion of R2P. As Thelma Ekiyor of the West Africa Civil Society Institute in Accra explains, the term has a connotation of “military adventurism” and violent “regime change”. Ekiyor points to “growing US military presence in Africa” and Washington’s constant emphasis on “counter-terrorism”. As a result, she says, people of poor countries fear that well-sounding R2P rhetoric will one day be abused to legitimise violent action geared to other goals than officially proclaimed.

Gareth Evans, a former foreign minister of Australia, who now heads the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), is familiar with such resentment. In his view, it results from a misunderstanding, as R2P is not primarily about military intervention, but rather about using all available means to prevent terrible crimes. The original concept, he says, only considers coercive force an exceptional option in cases where
– there is serious danger,
– all other alternatives of action have been exhausted, and
– the consequences are balanced in a way that intervention will not do more harm than good.

Moreover, Evans stresses that R2P only applies to “the small subset” of crisis situations which involve a risk of genocidal atrocity. He mentions Macedonia as an example, stressing that, in this particular case, military deployment rather than full-blown intervention was enough to prevent disaster. In Burundi, he adds, conventional peacekeeping has also made a
positive difference in past years.

On the other hand, Evans argues that the case for an R2P intervention can no longer be made in the Sudanese region of Darfur, because the situation has become too chaotic to truly speak of genocide or ethnic cleansing. So many different rebel groups, militias and criminal gangs are active in Darfur today that it has become hard to tell perpetrators from victims, according to the ICG.

Winrich Kühne of ZIF, the Berlin-based Centre for International Peace Operations, bemoans that the international community has not signed up to a “responsibility to be efficient and not mess up”. According to him, the 25,000-strong UN mission, which is supposed to bring peace to Darfur in the near future, is bound to fail (see article on opposite page). “There really is no systematic cooperation of the African Union, the European Union and the UN in this matter”, Kühne told a conference hosted by the Development and Peace Foundation and the Bonn International Centre for Conversion in Bonn in late November. Others warned that military missions for humanitarian purposes would most likely always remain under-staffed and under-funded.
In the eyes of Christian Much from Germany’s Foreign Office, R2P is a worthy concept. He reports that the Federal Government is considering to lend particular support to the newly established UN Office of the Special Representative for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities. In view of widespread skepticism in much of the developing world, however, Much believes that R2P now needs to be promoted by Asian, African and Latin American actors.

Lotte Leicht of Human Rights Watch stresses non-military ways of living up to R2P. She argues that the international community should bank on “smart sanctions” to really hurt those who abuse other people’s fundamental rights. For instance, the EU could deny culprits access to the European banking system. The much-applied threat of freezing assets is empty, Leicht argues, as funds are easily withdrawn before such sanctions bite. It would, however, be quite a different matter if transactions to or from Europe were made completely impossible for those guilty of serious human-rights violations.