The Charter of the United Nations recognises the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in the internal affairs of other Member States. Among its purposes is promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Among the purposes and principles of the Charter these are particularly relevant to the discussion on the responsibility to protect.
Everybody can agree that both the defence of humanity and the defence of sovereignty must be supported – we are committed to that by the Charter. The problem rises when these two principles are in conflict. It arises when sovereign states turn against their own people e.g. minorities and try to violate their rights and freedoms.
There is continuous reporting on violence against civilians, in particular in armed conflicts but also in other circumstances. Civil wars, insurgencies, state repression and state collapse are still today’s realities in many parts of the world. Some of the situations have exploded beyond any control and require extensive efforts from the international community to bring them back to something safe and controllable. Numerous lives – mostly innocent – have been lost in these cases and they should serve as a grave reminder of the importance of preventive measures. There is a need to reach a common understanding on what kind of preventive measures should be used by whom, when and where.
International discussion on this issue has been lively ever since the events in Kosovo. The Secretary General of the United Nations has in his statements and in his report to the Millennium Assembly stated that ”surely no legal principle – not even sovereignty – can ever shield crimes against humanity”. He continued that the international community through the UN Security Council has a moral duty to act. He also called the Member States to unite in pursuit of more effective policies to stop organised mass murder and egregious violations of human rights.
Too much attention in these debates has been focussed on the last resort – the military intervention. Before resorting to the military option the international community has at its disposal several other means that could serve as pre-emptive measures to prevent the situation from escalating to the extent that military intervention must be considered. The report by the ICISS that we are discussing in this conference offers ways and means to avoid military intervention. The challenge is to operationalise them.
The international community should also develop early warning mechanisms and capabilities to analyse these threats and the propensity to conflict and react to them as early as possible in order to avoid catastrophes and prevent imminent human disaster and loss of life.
Action against impunity and in particular the establishment of the International Criminal Court will have an important preventive effect over and above retributive justice. The great promise of the ICC relates to its long-term impact of outlawing policies that deliberately feed atrocities. The possibility of an international indictment may not stop a politician with genocidal intentions, but there will be less rewards for such a policy, and more risks involved in it. The record of the UN war crimes tribunals shows that such a learning process is already well under way.
New interpretations of the right to use force have also come up in the context of the National Security Strategy of the United States. The strategy states that the US will not hesitate to act alone to exercise its right of self-defence by acting pre-emptively against terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against Americans and the US.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between the concept of ”military intervention for human protection purposes” in the sense of the ICISS report and the pre-emptive strike in the US strategy.
The former is meant to be used to protect the civilian population at the mercy of its own government and armed groups and in the risk of losing innumerable lives in ethnic cleansing or genocide. The latter concept is basically used to refer to action to protect one country, its citizens and their interests by identifying and destroying the threat before it even reaches the borders.
Nevertheless, the two concepts may be interlinked inadvertently. Unilateral action without the support of the international community to protect one’s own national interests throws a shadow on the promotion of the concept of protecting the vulnerable in the interest of humanity. It does not help, either, that humanitarian grounds seem to have been invoked afterwards as a justification to the war, as no other reason has been found. Similarities like this are bound to take the discussions to murky waters where the distinction between these two distinct concepts becomes very much blurred.
Not only has the nature of conflicts and their origins changed from inter-state to intra-state but in the world which is globalising at an increasing speed the concept of sovereignty is also going through some redefinition. No country is anymore an island where it would be possible to live in total isolation from the rest of the world. Decisions for example on financial transactions taken in one part of the world might have a much stronger effect in some other parts of the world. New kind of threats like climate change, international crime, terrorism, corruption, diseases do not respect national borders. They become a global issue and require a universal response. The development and availability of information and communication technology make it possible to send and receive information from the most remote parts of the world. It is increasingly difficult for any country or its leaders to keep secrets. With regard to enhancing respect for human rights this is a positive development.
However, we should be clear about the position that new threats and challenges do not justify unilateral action. International rules containing the use of force as enshrined in the UN Charter must be upheld. The United Nations may not be a perfect mechanism, but it is the only one with a universal mandate.
Applying formal criteria to decide on military interventions for human protection purposes could be difficult for the Security Council because ultimately the question is of political decisions in situations which are hardly similar. Even if the international community cannot arrive at a common set of criteria to govern the use of military interventions, I am convinced that discussions in different fora , like this, will advance the common understanding which is critically needed in order to promote the concept of protecting the vulnerable.
The report of the Canadian Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty has given more food for thought and discussion. We appreciate this initiative greatly. Because of the war in Iraq, and other developments, which seem to make it easier to use force, it becomes difficult to conduct international debates in such a manner that they would lead to global acceptance of the concept. In order to build up international understanding from a regional basis we – the Canadians and the Finns – are organising this conference. I hope that discussions on the cases of East Timor, Zimbabwe and OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya chosen for this conference will promote the operationalisation of the duty to defend the vulnerable. I hope this and other conferences will also advance discussions on global levels and in the United Nations.
I wish in particular our foreign guests welcome to Finland and I hope you will have a very interesting and productive conference that will build up some common ground to approach the operationalisation of the ideas presented in the ICISS report. I also regret that I cannot participate in the conference although the topic interests me greatly.