Like many in my generation, I refuse to accept that there is nothing that can be done to stop the political and military abuses that directly harm humanity. In this day and age, it seems absurd that a handful of powerful leaders can cause the death and destruction of the masses without facing any serious consequences. But at the same time, it is unclear what to do when situations scale out of control. Are military interventions valid? Economic sanctions? Who takes the lead on preventing atrocities? How do they go about it? The recent events in Syria have once again brought up these important issues, and put into question the feasibility of R2P.
In 2009, the UN made its first resolution implementing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This resolution promised the continued commitment of goals established at the 2005 World Summit, in which the UN would work to protect the world’s peoples from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Many countries contested, including Syria, and the unfolding events that have taken place within the country have proven the difficulties in actualizing the R2P resolution. Not only has the UN Security Council failed to come to agreement on the Syrian issue, it’s difficult to know exactly what its intervention would do. Russia and China have approved a UN proposal to permit Valerie Amos, U.N. Humanitarian chief, to investigate the situation within Syria, while at the same time rejecting a resolution that condemns human rights violations by Syrian leaders. The message is confusing, and has led to further inaction.
So what does it all mean? Is it ever possible for R2P to materialize in an effective and timely manner, or will sovereign bodies have to take charge? The Arab League, the U.S, and the EU have all taken individual actions, including sanctions, against the Syrian regime. Aid organizations have been consistently blocked from entering devastated areas, and with President Assad refusing to step down, this has left the Syrian people in a dire position. Does this mean that a military intervention is inevitable? With remnants of Iraq, who really wants to take the risk? Would more lives be lost? How about safe zones? Would this work? With the inability for the UN to act, maybe NATO will step in and help arm Syrian rebels or perhaps individual nations will take it upon themselves to join the cause?
At any rate, there must be a way to prevent human atrocities from escalating, although it seems that R2P is yet to be a viable solution. Every R2P situation is different yet incredibly complicated, and no one can agree what to do. Moreover, as we have learned from the past, an emotional response to violence can sometimes lead to a quick, poorly thought out decision, that might tackle a short term initiative, but lead to a disastrous results in the long term. Also, it is difficult for an international body to come to agreement on how to handle such dilemmas while ensuring their own interests.
I do not have the answer for how to fix R2P, although I would like to see the initiative made to be a workable reality. While many would agree it is a wonderful idea, many are also unlikely to want to get involved. When human atrocities are committed, the problems often seem far away, and very few would want to fight and intervene should the need arise. So what is the answer? No one wants to see genocide or ethnic cleansing. Everyone knows that war crimes and crimes against humanity are wrong, but yet we still, as a society, cannot come to terms with what to do. We must continue this dialogue and come up with solutions. If not, we will continue to remain helpless as we witness mass violence unfold.
I agree with President Obama when he says that the UN is both “flawed” yet “indispensible.” Perhaps it is time to materialize a much-needed revamp of the U.N. There are continuous disagreements between developed and developing countries on many issues, overlap of agencies, too many bureaucratic hurdles, inefficiency, and overall disagreement on how to restructure; but it is still one of the best institutions we have as a society. The discourse on how to reform the UN will be difficult and timely, but I think it can eventually unfold into something that works. The key is not to give up on the ideal because the UN is still the most equitable peacekeeper society has, and I believe, a source for hope.
Written by Michelle Blanchet. Michelle is a former educator interested in education, development, and social enterprises. She just finished her Master’s in International Relations and is currently residing in Lausanne, Switzerland.