Monday, May 20, 2024
CommentaryResponsibility to protect: A pretext to infringe States’ Sovereignty

Responsibility to protect: A pretext to infringe States’ Sovereignty

In principle, states have unconditional sovereignty as per international law. However, there are exceptions to this absolute right of states’ sovereignty. One of these exceptions is known as “responsibility to protect” or also commonly termed as “R to P or R2P.”  

According to R2P, sovereign states have the responsibility to protect people within their territory. If for any reason they fail or are unable to protect their people, the international community shall intervene to protect those people. In other words, if a state fails or is unable to protect its people, the responsibility to protect will shift to the international community.

The principle is conceived on the ground that as part of the international community, all states either individually or collectively have the responsibility to protect people, who are unprotected regardless of the sovereignty of the state they live in.

In 2005, all member states of the UN agreed on the necessity of R2P, and they approved that there is a collective international responsibility exercised by the UN Security Council (UNSC), authorizing military intervention as a last resort, when there is genocide, large-scale killings, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Thus, the core point of this principle is that no state or organization can exercise “responsibility to protect” unless it is unanimously decided so by members of the UNSC. If any member of the Council objects to intervention, it is not possible to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Intervention does not always need to be military but rather in the form of sanctions. In other words, war is an extreme form of intervention.

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There are two major shortcomings of the R2P principle.

First, unless the Council unanimously approves intervention, there will be no actions taken against any state, even if there is a commission of the above-mentioned crimes. Second, members of the Council may unfairly pass unanimous decisions and act against the sovereignty of a state/s.

R2P, as a principle, looks fair and it is expected from a civilized world. However, there are debates on its execution. The practical application of R2P has been contentious since its adoption by member states of the UN. The debate mainly is based on the grounds that the principle may be abused or is unjustly used in some circumstances.

“Responsibility to Protect” has been practiced long before UN member states adopted it. The previous practice of states initiated the idea of acknowledging the act.

Looking at past events before and after the adoption of R2P, shadow of doubt can be cast on each decision taken to intervene or not. In Africa, the Rwanda genocide in 1994 resulted in about a million people (800,000 Tutsi and 200,000 moderate Hutu) being massacred. However, the UN and all Western or other countries did not act to stop the killings, and eventually, under the leadership of Paul Kagame, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took control of government controlled areas ending the genocide.

In Europe, there were killings of tens of thousands in the Yugoslavian civil war (1991-2001). The incident in Bosnia was one of the worst in the war. However, the war ended after NATO intervened. At the end of the war, Yugoslavia collapsed and dismembered into seven tiny states, which are currently under Western influence.

In Africa, in 2011 (after the adoption of R2P), NATO intervened in Libya’s crisis under the pretext of “responsibility to protect,” and ultimately, became an unstable country without a central government. Barak Obama, after his term ended, said that the intervention in Libya was a colossal mistake.

Even though it is possible to mention many reasons as to why the West do not apply “responsibility to protect” uniformly, a simple conclusion can be drawn from the above incidents, which is the intervention is interest-based. This means Western countries did not intervene in Rwanda because they did not have any interests to protect or it was not in their best interest to intervene, to save about a million lives.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia was relatively one of the strongest countries in Eastern Europe and the Westerners were not comfortable seeing a powerful state capable of challenging their domination in the area. Because of this, they have been planning to make a regime change in the country and the civil war was a pretext for them to intervene in Yugoslavia under the guise of “responsibility to protect”

The Westerners intervened in Libya because the government was against their interests and they were unable to benefit from the oil in Libya. Due to this, a regime change in the country was necessary and applied R2P.

The US and its allies may intervene without the authorization of the Security Council. Russia and China, which have veto powers in the Council, never agreed on the intervention in Yugoslavia and Libya. However, they intervened in the name of NATO, which afterwards led to a destabilized Libya.

When we customize the above instances into Ethiopia’s current crisis, the country is striving to bring the domestic conflict to an end. As it is the responsibility of the elected government to keep the peace and security, it may deploy military forces to any region in the country. Despite this fact, the US and its European allies have been telling the government to withdraw its troops from the Tigray region, as if Ethiopia is under their sovereign administration.

Besides, the US stated that it may intervene in Ethiopia to save its citizens and interests. The US and its allies are also claiming that they have a “responsibility to protect” lives in the Tigray region. Moreover, they have alleged that genocide had been committed by both sides to the conflict in the Tigray region.

Recently, the US erased Ethiopia from the list of “the African Growth and Opportunity Act”, commonly known as “AGOA.” This is solid proof that the US has already started its intervention in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs. The bottom line here is that the US and its allies are partial. So, the question here should be: What interest do the US and other Westerners have in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is located near a strategic location of the Red Sea. Besides, the country has qualities that make it more important than its neighbors. This importance is the product of a combination of factors such as, its historical significance (Ethiopia is the first African country that ensured its independence against colonial ambitions), population (second largest in Africa), area (one of the largest countries in the Horn), and natural resource endowments (water, minerals, etc.).

Ethiopia also has one of the strongest military powers in East Africa. Hence, the US and others have it in there interest to have control or leverage over Ethiopia.

The West has tried to keep their interest in Ethiopia intact under the TPLF regime. However, after PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) assumed power, the government increasingly became resistant to fulfilling their interests. As a result, the West is trying to do what they did in other parts of Africa and elsewhere under the guise of “responsibility to protect”.

We can infer from the above explanations that the West does not apply R2P uniformly and several conclusions can be drawn from the above instances and explanations.

It can be said that their concern is not human rights but only their interest and R2P has been used to bring about regime changes in a country they consider to be against their interests or are potential enemies.

As long as the war in Ethiopia continues, Ethiopia should prepare itself for the worst scenario because history has proved that Western military intervention, either directly or indirectly, maybe a real threat to the very existence of the country. If they think that their interest is indeed at stake, they may not hesitate to make moves to achieve their mission in Ethiopia.

In the meantime, the Ethiopian government should disclose to the international community all relevant facts and evidences and employ soft diplomacy instead of antagonizing the West. Ethiopia must work with its Eastern allies such as Russia and China to stop the Wests congenital imperialism.

(Shimelash Wondale is an expert in International Relations and Diplomacy. He can be reached at [email protected].)

Contributed by Shimelash Wondale

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