Why Namibia voted against ‘safeguarding humanity’

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Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

It is so unfortunate that we (the entire nation) are trigger-happy to criticise our government and leaders on matters we have very little knowledge of. That is dangerous. That attitude is compounded by media stories that do not give the full details of the whole situation.

Social and traditional media are busy condemning Namibia (particularly President Geingob) for voting against the motion to include ‘Responsibility to Protect and the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, Ethnic Cleansing, and Crimes Against Humanity’ on the agenda of the current UN General Assembly meeting. Remarkably, no one has tried to interrogate the substance of the motion and why some countries, including Namibia voted on it.

Even though I am not at the General Assembly, as a student of international relations I have read the UN Concept Note on ‘Responsibility to Protect and the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, Ethnic Cleansing, and Crimes Against Humanity’ and my conclusion, then and now, is simply that the whole concept is an imperial gimmick to hoodwink international opinion into giving the imperial powers more powers to invade, at will, and change governments on flimsy excuses.

The concept/motion is called R2P in short. The nature of R2P is:
(a) R2P is a realist, state-centric concept – the responsibility for protection lies with states and coalitions of states; the free-rider problem; in this formulation, states are both the problem and the solution
(b) Ultimate reliance on violence – paradoxically, it reinforces the norm of employing violence to resolve crises; it implies continued military capabilities for states and the legitimacy of resort to force
(c) It creates and maintains problematic distinctions between greater and lesser violence, good and bad violence, and worthy and unworthy victims
(d) Status quo oriented – it leaves the global structures that create violence (including states) untouched; it balances too strongly against state sovereignty

The following points might shed light on this assumption:
Despite its noble goals, the international community should treat the R2P doctrine with extreme caution. Adopting a doctrine that compels sovereign states to act to prevent atrocities occurring in other countries (individually, without a proper UN mechanism) would be risky and imprudent.

R2P throws the sovereignty of any state through the window and opens doors for states to be remote-controlled through well-orchestrated intrigues ordained by the UNSC. Nations need to preserve their national sovereignty by maintaining a monopoly on the decision to deploy diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, political coercion, and especially military forces, or at least do so through well-defined international systems.

The five main documents in which R2P has been articulated are the High Level Panel’s Report on Threats, Challenges and Change; the Secretary-General’s report ‘In Larger Freedom’; the Outcome Document of the World Summit 2005; UN Security Council Resolution 1674; the Secretary-General’s Report on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.
None of these documents can be considered as a source of binding international law in terms of Article 38 of the Statue of the International Court of Justice, which lists the classic sources of international law.

At the negotiations on the World Summit Outcome Document, the then US permanent representative John Bolton stated accurately that the commitment made in the Document was “not of a legal character”.

The Document is carefully nuanced to convey the intentions of the member states. Paragraph 138 when it deals with the individual state’s responsibility to its own people is clear in its commitment. When it comes to the international community helping states, the phrase used is a general appeal – “should as appropriate”.
Paragraph 139 continues this nuanced approach. The language is clear and unconditional when it speaks of “the international community through the UN” having the “responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter”.

The Document is very cautious when it comes to responsibility to take action through the UN Security Council under Chapter VII. Paragraph 139 uses at least four qualifiers. Firstly, the heads of state merely reaffirm that they “are prepared” to take action, implying a voluntary, rather than mandatory engagement.

Secondly, they are prepared to do this only “on a case by case basis”, which precludes a systematic responsibility. Thirdly, even this has to be “in cooperation with regional organisations as appropriate”.

R2P is a concept for intervention in a state by the international community (preferably through the UN) for the prevention of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass killings and human rights violations taking place in a country which is unwilling (or unable) to stop it. At that time, the wider international community then has a collective responsibility to take whatever action is necessary to prevent it. It is central to human security in all its dimensions. It is crucial to building post-conflict societies, supporting the rule of law, multilateral and democratic institutions.

The concept took 20 odd years to be formed after it was floated in the 1980s, initiated by Gareth Evans and endorsed by Kofi Annan in the 1990s, before being adopted as a concept by the UN’s World Leader’s Summit in 2005. The summit endorsed the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect’, subsequently approved by the Security Council, thus establishing the principle that sovereignty of a country is not sacrosanct and that the Security Council should be prepared to act when countries either commit or fail to prevent genocide or crimes against humanity on their territories. It is a moral, rather than a legal obligation.

Intervention in Somalia was approved by the UN, which appointed the US as its agent. This intervention failed to restore peace. In Bosnia UN forces had an inadequate mandate or forces allowed to monitor the civil war by the Yugoslav government. The UN commander was given barely a quarter of the forces he requested and the mission failed.
* Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California. This article has been shortened.

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