Thursday, June 23, 2011

UN: Responsibility to Protect and National Sovereignty

Celebrating UN Peacekeepers in Kansas City

by Jay Sjerven
Independence, Mo. – The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect reflects new thinking  about the concept of national sovereignty, said Jim McLay,  New Zealand’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
McLay spoke on May 18 at the Harry S. Truman Library at an event recognizing the contributions of UN peacekeeping forces to world stability. The program was organized by the Greater Kansas City chapter of UNA. 
The Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, is an emerging doctrine based on "a change in the way we view the world," McLay said. That new view implies that "sovereignty is not an absolute right but a privilege, one that carries great responsibility" — that nations are required to protect their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The R2P doctrine has three pillars, McLay noted:
  • Every sovereign state has the responsibility to protect its population against these "four great crimes."
  • International organizations, both regional and global, have a responsibility to assist countries’ capacity to meet that responsibility.
  • When a state "manifestly fails" to protect its population, the international community has the responsibility to act to protect that population.
McLay added that it was important to note that under the doctrine, the responsibility falls to the international community only in situations in which one or more of the "four great crimes" is occurring. The doctrine does not apply to situations that involve other threats to human populations, like climate change or natural disasters.
The current military intervention by NATO in Libya is an example of R2P being put into practice, McLay said, and has already saved tens of thousands of lives. The role of the Arab League in calling for such an intervention was a critical element in the Security Council’s decision to authorize a no-fly zone in Libya, he said. The support and endorsement from the League was a primary reason  the international community  responded in Libya in ways that it has not in Syria, where violence is also going on, but the Arab League has not sought similar intervention.
"The debate will continue," McLay said about R2P’s evolution. "This is an unfinished process. But that debate must be respectful of the millions who have died in mass atrocities."
McLay was speaking at the fourth annual observance of UN peacekeeping in Independence. The day’s ceremonies began with a wreath-laying at the UN Peace Plaza on the grounds of the Community of Christ Church headquarters. The plaza, built by the Kansas City chapter with the support of local contractors, labor unions, community organizations and philanthropists, is the only permanent memorial in the United States dedicated to UN peacekeepers who have died while on mission. The wreath was placed by McLay and international officers with UN peacekeeping experience currently enrolled in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A list of 98 UN peacekeepers who died in the last year was read aloud by UNA chapter and Rotary Club 13 members.
The group then moved to the Truman Library, about one mile away, to hear McLay’s remarks and a panel discussion involving five military officers from Canada, Mali, New Zealand and Zambia.  All the officers had direct experience in UN peacekeeping work.
Ray Geselbracht, special assistant to the director of the Truman Library, noted that President Truman participated in the creation of the UN after President Roosevelt died in 1945. Truman, he said, was in many ways a man shaped by war, due to his service in the U.S. Army during World War I and as Commander in Chief of U.S. forces in World War II.
"Yet, he saw peace as a primary goal, and he saw the need for international organizations to keep the peace," Geselbracht said. "He was a peacekeeper, too."
State Representative Jason Kander (D-MO) was the panel’s moderator. The officers discussed the threats that peacekeepers face, ranging from hostile fire to attempts by the desperately poor to steal vehicles and other valuables. Misinformation campaigns — meant  to convince the people that peacekeepers are trying to protect that the UN forces are really a threat — are a constant problem. Communications efforts are, therefore, vital in successful peacekeeping operations, the officers said.
This year, the annual UNA Kansas City event was also sponsored by the Truman Library, the Command and General Staff College, Greater Kansas City People to People, the Harry S. Truman Center for Governmental Affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City’s Downtown Rotary Club, the Independence Lions Club and the Kansas City chapter of UNA Young Professionals.
Jay Sjerven is president of the Greater Kansas City chapter.

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