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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 7:10 pm, 13th October 2008

I will come to that point, and will give my hon. Friend a direct answer in just a moment, if I may.

The fourth result of military intervention is, of course, the geopolitical consequences to which I referred in my opening comments. The independence of Kosovo, which was forced on the west against its wishes, unlocked a series of consequences. It has meant the fragmentation of parts of the Caucasus, and has led every small national minority in many states to believe that if it can only push us hard enough, it can create a further fragmentation of Europe and of the wider world. That has the serious consequences that we are now experiencing.

I now come to the point that my hon. Friend raised. Everything that I have said so far implies that one can somehow just ignore human rights abuses, however serious they are. I make one exception to my general principle, and that is in the case of real genocide. The word "genocide" has been used very widely. It has been used to talk about small massacres in towns, cities or villages, or against small numbers of people. Such events are terribly reprehensible, and I will come back to that issue. However, I entirely acknowledge, for a reason that I will explain, that if there is a genocide such as the holocaust, or such as that in Rwanda or Cambodia, in which a whole population is threatened with annihilation, of course the outside world cannot but intervene.

How do I rationalise that, given what I have just been saying? I do so in a very simple way. I have argued that whenever one intervenes militarily in the internal affairs of a state, one will create more harm than good. By definition, the one exception is genocide, because although military intervention will still create a political vacuum and change the political dynamic, and still lead to all sorts of consequences that were never intended, nothing can be as bad as the genocide that one has succeeded in stopping. In circumstances in which military intervention would prevent or stop a genocide—I mean genocide in its overall sense, not simply a massacre in a town or a village—the argument must point in the other direction.

That leaves the question: what does one do about lesser human rights abuses, in which people are persecuted and sometimes slaughtered? I refer to the Srebrenicas of this world—

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