Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘R2P’

Coming to Terms with Genocide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd December, 2015

imageIn 1994, when Rwanda was seized with a killing frenzy, I was working for BBC World Service at Bush House in London, writing analysis pieces about what was going on. It was clear that the then government in Kigali was orchestrating the massacre, with the Interhamwe militia and later ordinary Rwandans taking part in the brutal slaughter, mainly of men, women and children of the Tutsi minority. Some brave souls did hide or protect potential victims, at great risk to their own lives, but others joined in the blood-letting, some under duress. Over a period of 100 days perhaps as many as a million people were slaughtered, many thousands of them inside churches where they had sought sanctuary. For three months the international community essentially stood by, until the French declared rightly that something must be done, and a force of Rwandan exiles from Uganda moved in. It was largely because of the Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu fanatics set out to exterminate the Tutsi just as surely as Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, that the Canadians, among others, worked out the theory of humanitarian intervention known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial 21 years later, earlier this week, I tried to come to terms with what drives people to instigate or participate in a genocide. The methods used in Rwanda were often sickening, as people were slashed to pieces with machetes or babies had their heads smashed against walls. Some victims were buried alive. What drives people to abandon their humanity in such an extreme way? Greed, envy and other deadly sins, certainly, but also fear, especially when the dreadful killing machine has started moving. Almost every family in Rwanda was directly touched by the genocide and many come to the gardens of remembrance at he Kigali Genocide Memorial to feel reunited with their loved ones, an estimated 259,000 are buried in the grounds. It is a calm, beautiful place for reflection, but I challenge anyone to come out of the exhibition halls, with their graphic photographs and moving video testimony of the bereaved, to emerge with a dry eye.

 

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Burundi: R2P in Action?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th December, 2015

R2PThe African Union, moving with uncharacteristic speed, has decided to send 5,000 peace-keeping troops to Burundi, even though the government there has not asked for them. This is a legitimate move under an evolving concept in international law: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which basically argues that the international community has a moral duty to intervene in a country if there is a danger of genocide or other grave humanitarian crisis and the government on the spot either can’t or won’t solve the problem itself. Accordingly, R2P challenges a fundamental principle of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, namely that the ruler or government of a nation state has the sole authority for managing its affairs. Some countries, such as China, still cherish the notion of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state, not least because of foreign criticism of its policies in Tibet, but in a case like Burundi there is unlikely to be much protest at any peace-keeping action. This is because of the awful precedent of Rwanda, where I am now.

Burundi 1In 1994 one of the worst genocides in history took place as predominantly Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered or maimed with machetes and other weapons by a militia force with the encouragement of some people in power and, shamefully, even some Christian priests. The international community stood by — some UN troops were even withdrawn, sealing the fate of thousands — until France decided that something must be done to halt the carnage. It was largely because of the Rwanda genocide that the idea of R2P was formulated. As it has evolved, the assumption is that military intervention should only take place when it is clear that diplomatic and other pressures or measures will not work. Moreover, rather that the United Nations itself being expected to act as a global policeman, regional organisations are encouraged to be the prime movers. So the African Union’s initiative will be widely welcomed. There is no doubt that the matter is urgent; scores of bodies have been found in the streets of the capital Bujumbura and hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled into neighbouring  countries. Although at the moment the conflict is not overtly ethnic it could so easily become so, as it was in Rwanda, and then the true nightmare would begin.

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What Can We Do about Syria?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th September, 2013

Bashar al-AssadUNSCJust because the House of Commons recently voted against military action in Syria does not mean that Britain or indeed the West can walk away from the tragic situation there. As I said in a speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow this morning, we still have a moral obligation to act under Responsibility to Protect (R2P). That is the evolving doctrine in International Law that when a country’s government is unable or unwilling to protect its population from humanitarian catastrophe or gross human rights abuses the international community must. Military action is only a last resort under R2P, and I am not alone in being relieved that we have not gone to war over Syria, as I fear it would only have made the situation worse. But we need to work closely with Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, to get action taken, over and above the considerable amount of humanitarian aid that Britain and some others have been providing. I praised the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for sticking his neck out in calling for the Assad regime to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and indeed the UN Security Council should pass a resolution to that effect. Moreover, there has been a UN Commission on Syria in existence for over two years but the government in Damascus has not let it in to investigate. The UN (and again Russia) should use every means to force it to allow the team in, as it did with the chemical weapons inspectors. In the meantime, we should have no illusions about the Assads and their cohorts; this is a regime that has no compunction about shelling hospitals, persecuting doctors who treat the wounded or even torturing children in front of their parents. The situation in Syria today is a stain on the modern world and the international community — including the Arab League — must find a way of getting rid of it.

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The Syria Dilemma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th August, 2013

Bashar al-AssadSyria casualtiesBritain’s armed forces are preparing themselves for an armed strike against Syria, following the recent use of chemical weapons inside the country, probably by the Assad regime’s forces. As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success. Of course it would be preferable if the UN Security Council backed such a move, but that is currently impossible given the fact that Russia and to a lesser extent China are standing behind Bashar al-Assad — though in China’s case this is mainly because of its strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The humanitarian need in Syria is self-evident. More than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, a high proportion of them civilians. There are now between four and five million Syrian refugees and whole swaths of cities such as Aleppo and Homs are a wasteland. Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated. The problem is what exactly should be done, now that what President Obama described as the “red line” of chemical weapon use has been crossed? The imposition of a no fly zone is one obvious option, or carefully targeted use of cruise missiles against the regime’s military installations. But there is no guarantee of effectiveness. What certainly needs to be avoided is sending foreign — and especially Western — troops on the ground, which would not only lead to heavy casualties but also risks turning some of the anti-Assad population against the intervention. Russia meanwhile has warned the West against intervention. But I think the momentum now is unstoppable. Unless the Assad clique stands aside — which it has shown no willingness to do — Syria is going to be the latest in a string of Middle Eastern/North African Wars. And the poor United Nations will look even more impotent and marginalised than ever.

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Syria and R2P

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th April, 2013

Syria devastationBashar al-AssadToday at the Liberal International Executive in Beirut there was a special session on Syria, its title asking the provocative question whether the crisis and the international community’s failure to find a resolution to it signals an end to the Responsibility to Protect. Keynote speakers included former LI President John Alderdice, who I have often worked with, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who I had dealings with when I was doing project evaluation and training for his Democrat Party in Bangkok a few years back. I not surprisingly agreed with almost everything John said though I argued that to call R2P a “doctrine”m as he did, was unfortunate as it is rather a principle of evolving International Law. Kasit, as a good Buddhist, argued that the lessons from Indonesia (Suharto) and Burma (the military junta) suggest that we should not seek revenge for what Bashar al-Assad and his family and cohorts have done, but rather show forgiveness. I countered that the Syrian regime’s crimes have been so heinous that for justice to be done he and his brother Maher should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague (which got a gratifyingly hearty round of applause from the Lebanese present, in particular). I maintained that Western military intervention in Libya had been correct, under R2P, even if the outcome is not entirely smooth, whereas I fear any Western military intervention in Syria would only make things worse. Instead, the Arab League — possibly with the addition of Turkey — should take the lead and try to convene a workable peace conference, though in the meantime considerable diplomatic pressure needs to be brought to bear on Russia and China, two of Syria’s strongest allies.

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