Widgets Magazine

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General outlines the responsibility to protect

Edward Luck, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave a lecture on “the responsibility to protect” at Stanford Law School yesterday. This political norm adopted by the United Nations in 2005 gives the Security Council the right to take action against countries that violate certain rights of their people.

Luck’s lecture, “Stopping Atrocity Crimes: ‘The Responsibility to Protect’ Five Years On,” touched on the basic principles behind the concept, its wider acceptance by national governments and its significance in preventing future massacres.

The norm gives the Security Council the right to take action when it is clear that genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity are committed in a country.

Luck touched on the significance of last Saturday’s United Nations resolution against Libya. It included economic sanctions and stressed that states could use the responsibility to protect as justification for military force.

“It’s pretty striking that despite or maybe even because of the composition of the Council now, that it was able to have unanimity,” Luck said of the resolution.

He added that including the incitement of these crimes would also be seen as cause for concern. In the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Hutus characterized their rival Tutsis as cockroaches. According to Luck, there are parallels to Rwanda in Libya’s current unrest.

“Unfortunately, one of the things that got us very worried about Qadhafi is he called his political opponents the other day cockroaches,” he said of the Libyan leader. “Now maybe he doesn’t know the connection, but I’m a little worried that he does know the connection, and maybe some of his listeners may know the connection.”

There is now a greater acceptance of the responsibility to protect in the international community. With India, South Africa and Brazil currently on the 15-member Security Council, new powers are having a say. Luck said these countries want to be seen as playing a constructive role. Now he argues that individual countries must stress the issue to their own people.

“What the Security Council needs is a good political push from their parliaments, from their journalists, from their publics to say ‘these things matter and they matter in a way they didn’t matter before, and they actually relate to our national interest,’” he said.

On China, Luck said the Chinese want to be seen as following global norms. This circumstance, coupled with the fact that Libya’s own United Nations representative publicly urged the world to act, factored into China’s decision to vote with the rest of the Security Council on the violence in Libya.

Lonjezo Hamisi, a third-year doctoral student in political science, is optimistic that Rwandan-style genocide will be avoided thanks to the force that can accompany this political norm.

“I think it’s a good thing for the world,” he said. “It can only be a good thing for the world that now there’s this normative development of the rejection of crimes against humanity. In other words, the international community is making a statement against impunity.”

Luck’s talk was sponsored by the Crothers Global Citizenship Dorm, the Stanford International Law Society and other groups.

  • Charlie Sheen

    I ‘d rather listen to Andrew Luck.