In an interview yesterday, Edward Luck, special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General for the responsibility to protect, offered wide-ranging comments on the concept of R2P, past, present, and future.

In explaining R2P’s origins, Luck cited massacres like the Rwandan genocide and Cambodia’s “killing fields,” which made clear the need for a framework of principles to help protect civilians while taking into account the international system’s deep-rooted notion of state sovereignty. R2P, as conceived in 2001, seemed to present a perfect middle ground, and according to Luck its evolution has so far been successful.

Apart from NATO’s heavily criticized intervention in Libya, and the mixed outcome of Côte d’Ivoire, Luck says R2P has helped in Kyrgyzstan and Guinea, although these cases received less media coverage. In Libya’s case, he argued, most of the negative response has focused on the use of force, which isn’t R2P’s main goal and therefore shouldn’t be the litmus test of its success.

“For us the job isn’t response, the job is prevention,” Luck said. “Many people think that responsibility to protect is all about the use of military force after the bodies start piling up. For us, that isn’t morally acceptable.”

On the topic of Syria, Luck discussed why it is that R2P was applied to help the Libyans while the Syrian people seem to have been abandoned, explaining it mainly in terms of the influence of regional organizations.

In Libya’s case, Luck said, “the Arab League, the African Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, all acted before the Security Council did. . . . In this case it was really the way the [UN] Charter had meant it to be: the parties and then the regional bodies first try to resolve the differences.” This contrasts with Syria, where support for intervention from regional organizations has been absent.

Luck also cited the language used by Qaddafi, who referred to protesters as “cockroaches” and said he would “cleanse Libya house by house.” Assad, on the other hand, has been more careful. “We listen to what leaders say as well as watch what they do,” Luck said.

Speculating on R2P’s future, Luck says he hopes and believes that, rather than meeting its demise, R2P will become so absorbed into the way states think of their responsibilities, and so much a part of civil society, that his office at the UN “simply could go out of business.”

The interview fails to mention one glaring issue: namely, the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. By all accounts the regime in Khartoum, since June 5, has engaged in illegal policies that target civilians of specific ethnic groups for torture and arrest and murder. Criticism has been hurled at the UN and its member states for their lack of action and avoidance of the issues—as Luck himself does in the interview.

Genocide scholar Samuel Totten, who has written extensively on Sudan, wrote an opinion column last week arguing that South Sudan fits all the requirements for R2P intervention. Yet, he wrote: “the international [community] largely plays dumb, claiming ‘I see no evil’ and ‘I hear no evil.’ The latter, of course, conveniently translates into, ‘Thus, I do not need to deal with evil.’ Such a position is totally antithetical to the concept of The Responsibility to Protect. Indeed, it is akin to seeking an easy (and unconscionable) way out of acting responsibly.”

In contrast to Luck’s optimistic view of the future of R2P, Totten declared that it was “on the verge of becoming a dead letter.”

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