Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

United Nations Report: Security Council Debates Use, Veto of Military Force to Protect Human Rights

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

United Nations Report: Security Council Debates Use, Veto of Military Force to Protect Human Rights

Article excerpt

As 2001 drew to a close, an international commission set up by the Canadian government reported back on the question Kofi Annan had asked the year before at the U.N.'s Millennium Summit: "If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica--to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?"

Funded by the Canadian government, but with an international membership, the Commission considered "when, if ever, it is appropriate for states to take coercive--and in particular military--action, against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state," and whether, if there is a right of intervention, "how and when it should be exercised, and under whose authority."

In the end the commission, chaired by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Algerian diplomat Mohamed Sahnoun, declared that any such breach of the sacred principles of national sovereignty could only be sanctioned by the United Nations, and above all the Security Council. Its members, however, were canny enough to note that in cases like Rwanda and Bosnia--interestingly Israel and Palestine were never mentioned--the Council was unable to act because of vetoes actual or threatened by permanent members.

The commission, named after Lloyd Axworthy, the former Canadian foreign minister who founded it, suggested that Security Council members promise not to use their vetoes when their direct state interests are not involved. Failing that, it suggested that to force humanitarian interventions, member states should use the "Uniting for Peace" procedure that the U.S. successfully proposed in 1950 to beat the Soviet veto. This allows the calling of an emergency special session of the General Assembly that can overrule a Security Council veto. In the days of the Cold War the Americans used the procedure nine times.

Coincidentally, the week the report was issued the Palestinians were trying to use exactly that procedure. The Security Council resolution of Dec. 15 that the U.S. vetoed (see Jan./Feb. 2002 Washington Report, p. 36) was resubmitted to the reconvened Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly on Dec. 19. Even the Germans and the other Europeans--not to mention Turkey, Israel's close strategic ally--united to support what was clearly a balanced resolution condemning terrorism on both sides and a second resolution supporting the meeting of the parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention that had condemned Israeli behavior in the occupied territories and declared the Convention to be applicable to them.

Once again, the British, newly enthralled by Washington and its own pro-Israel lobby, abstained on the repeat of the Council resolution, but did vote for the one on the Geneva Convention. The Canadians, despite their own sponsored report suggesting just this procedure, also abstained, and made themselves look even sillier by abstaining in New York from the resolution they had supported in Geneva. The turnabout came in the face of heavy pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Ottawa.

For reiteration of the Security Council resolution calling for implementation of the Mitchell Report and international observers, the U.S. did manage to shepherd two more mini-micro-states through the nay lobby to support its semi-dependencies Micronesia and the Marshalls. Washington successfully swayed Tuvalu and Nauru to vote against the resolution. Even they could only bring themselves to abstain on the Geneva Convention resolutions, however.

In addition, the Palestinians ran a flag up the pole with amendments to the Fourth Geneva Convention resolution that would have called upon the International Court of Justice in The Hague for advisory opinions on Israeli breaches of the conventions and on the duties of signatories to the convention to secure compliance with them. At the last minute, however, they withdrew. …

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