Statement by Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative on the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
We meet today to address, in this setting, an issue that has been a long time in the making. The item on the agenda touches upon on differing philosophical basis of inter-state ties; varied historical experiences of interpretation of key concepts; and sharply divergent recent experiences of the translation of international precepts into practice. It is, therefore, entirely understandable, that the process of whether to even debate the subject or not led to the articulation of strong arguments on either side of these fault lines for many years, since this Assembly debated it in 2009.
India supported the inclusion of the item on the Agenda of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. We did so as we believe that normative issues, however complex and sensitive, need to be debated. At the core of this approach is the belief that ideas matter. Our hope is that today’s discussion will enhance our understanding of the fundamental precepts involved; place on record the commonalities as well as bring to light the different perspectives; and provide an opportunity to assess where we all stand.
India’s consistent position is that the “Responsibility to Protect” its population is one of the foremost responsibilities of every State and the right to life is one of the rights from which no derogation is permitted. We draw this not only from our present constitution but from a historical tradition imbued with the same belief.
A rock edict issued by the Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd Century BC has the inscription: – “this is my rule: government by the law, administration according to the law, gratiﬁcation of my subjects under the law, and protection through the law”. We also firmly believe that in today’s “internationalist” global order, individual states can and should be encouraged and assisted to meet such responsibilities. Indeed it is the responsibility of our generation to support the evolution of such norms of legitimacy. In short, India like many others, has little disagreement with the rationale of the cardinal features of Pillars I and II of the Responsibility to Protect.
However, we are of the view that appropriate ways need to be found to address the legally complex and politically challenging issues which underlie Pillar III. In our view, the ability of the international community to take appropriate collective action if a State, manifestly fails to fulfill its responsibility to protect its population, is still ridden with serious gaps that need to be reflected upon. The quest for a more just global order should not take place in a manner that will undermine international order itself. Resort to force by other States, acting on behalf of the international community through intervention, as a legitimate means for enforcing rights in the face of a State’s perceived inability to fulfill its responsibilities in this regard is contrary to the internationalist impulse of our age.
Experience shows that the implementation of the notion of Responsibility to Protect so as to prevent, or stop major internal abuses within a State has been used to frame or justify interventions by external powers in several instances. These include some instances where the Security Council failed to agree to intervene under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and in other instances by interpretation of mandates in a manner not envisaged by all actors. The results have almost always been mixed and very unsatisfactory at best.
At worst, many such interventions have left entire regions destabilized and have been perceived, often rightly, to have been undertaken to further the strategic interests of certain powers. At the same time, there have arguably been other instances, both well-known or otherwise, where major abuses have been committed or continue to be committed with impunity. Many such situations of non-action can be attributed to either lack of strategic interest of some or worse because their specific interests do not allow any change in status quo. While Responsibility to Protect, at its core, has an appeal as a ‘noble cause’, its usage has only been selective in the context of a wider geo-strategic balance of power among competing players or groups.
All of us are aware of the many critical questions that need to be addressed if this noble cause is to be pursued in an impartial manner:
How can we ensure commonly accepted legal definitions of the crimes that we are discussing?
What will qualify as a trigger for action by the international community?
Which body should be competent enough to take such a decision?
What happens if such a body is grossly unrepresentative of the wider international community and contemporary global realities?
What happens if the record of such a body in addressing common challenges, and consequently its legitimacy is in serious question?
In short, it is our view that the current system of collective international security that is sought to be enforced through the UN Security Council cannot isolate the implementation of a concept such as the Responsibility to Protect from double standards, selectivity, arbitrariness and misuse for political gains.
The requirements essential to implement Responsibility to Protect (R2P) such as a just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, reasonable prospects and the right authority to take a decision remain elusive and contested. While there is no common understanding on such concepts related to the four crimes referred to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, some quarters have even sought to expand the scope of R2P to include situations that may arise from pandemics, climate change and natural disasters. We get into even greater difficulty in such scenarios.
The current architecture of peace and security is similar to what the philosopher George Bernard Shaw described the world in 1931, “The universe is all spots and jumps, without unity, without continuity, without coherence or orderliness.” Proceeding with “perilous interventions” in such a situation is tantamount to placing belief in a ‘false prophet’. At this stage, there remain huge and glaring gaps in building common understandings on how or even whether to proceed with such a concept in terms of the present system of global governance.
Investment of common political will into building more representative and inclusive governance structures nationally and at a global level; strengthening capacities for greater opportunities both for much wider sections of populations and nations in global structures; providing access to resources more equitably to build and sustain peace and prosperity are all pre-requisites in the fulfillment of which we continue to fall far short.
We hope this debate serves as a barometer of the distance that all of us have to travel to meet our quest for a common understanding of this important topic. We need to address issues in a more holistic manner so as to ensure that the concept that we are debating today can acquire the legitimacy that it deserves.