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UN: Responsibility to Protect — Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 30th June 2009.

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Tabled By Lord Jay of Ewelme

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to give effect to the United Nations doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Crossbench 8:16 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, I am very glad to be able to introduce this short debate this evening, and particularly glad that it has elicited two maiden speeches—from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and the Minister. I greatly look forward to hearing both speeches.

It is nearly four years since heads of state and government, at Canadian instigation, adopted the doctrine of responsibility to protect, or R2P in the jargon, at the 2005 United Nations World Summit. Behind that jargon lies a principle of huge importance: a pledge by world leaders to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We need only to recall for a moment some of the atrocities of recent years to realise the difference that this doctrine, had it been in effect, might have made—on the massacres in Rwanda, which showed that the machete is as deadly a weapon of mass destruction as the sophisticated weaponry of the West; the civil war in Sudan; the atrocities in Darfur; and the sustained misgovernment in Zimbabwe. There are others, and in other parts of the world.

The doctrine of responsibility to protect is thus important, necessary and potentially far reaching, with the possibility of making a huge and positive impact on many of the world's most vulnerable people. R2P has also, alas, been contentious. The Europeans have, on the whole, been enthusiastic, though not always at one. The United States, scarred by the intervention in Iraq, has feared that it may lead to pressure for similar adventures elsewhere. Many developing countries fear the opposite: that R2P may instead be used to justify such adventures. The Russians and the Chinese have seen it as leading to an unacceptable intervention in the affairs of other states. So, shamefully, little has happened to put the doctrine into effect.

Fortunately, the new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has recognised the need for action and, on the basis of work by his special representative, Ed Luck, has produced a report to the UN General Assembly that will, I understand, be debated next week. This provides a real opportunity for the UN to breathe life into the doctrine of R2P; and for the Government to use their undoubted influence to ensure this happens at next week's debate and beyond. The UN Secretary-General's report makes it clear that R2P is not and should not be seen as some neo-colonialist assault by the developed countries on the sovereignty of others. It should be seen for what it is: a recognition by the international community as a whole of responsibility to do all it can to prevent atrocities in future.

The Secretary-General set out a three-pillar approach for putting the doctrine into practice: first, that states themselves—this is a hugely important point—have the primary responsibility for protecting their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; secondly, that the international community has the responsibility to help them do so, by encouragement, by aid and by capacity building, and to focus in particular on countries which are under stress, and before conflicts and crises break out; and, thirdly, only where a state is "manifestly failing" to protect its population, the international community has the responsibility to take timely and decisive action to prevent atrocities; such action may range from bilateral and regional pressure on recalcitrant states through sanctions to—if all else fails—coercive measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, but always with UN Security Council authorisation. Responsibility, in other words, is on all of us to protect the vulnerable.

I have mentioned past atrocities that the doctrine of responsibility to protect might have averted, but the key now is to anticipate and prevent future crises. Some of these are already too clearly on the horizon. Let us for a moment consider not Darfur, which rightly gets the world's attention, but Sudan and the growing tensions between north and south, which, wrongly, do not. As part of the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south that ended one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars, the south will hold a referendum in two years' time on whether to secede. It is almost certain that it will vote to do so. It is possible, perhaps probable, that the north will try to prevent it. The result could well be yet another catastrophic civil war.

I was in south Sudan a few months ago for the medical charity I chair, Merlin—an interest I declare this evening. I saw how fragile is the recovery from the civil war. I saw, too, how, within the south, weak government is leading even now to local conflict, exacerbated by incursions from across the border. If to this already explosive mixture is added a civil war between north and south, there will be a massive humanitarian disaster.

The point is that we know all this now; we do not need to wait until disaster happens to try, too late, to stop it. Early warning of crises, as the Secretary-General's report makes clear, is an essential element in putting R2P into effect, so that the international community as a whole—neighbouring states, regional organisations, the developed world—recognises its responsibility to act. There could be no clearer example than Sudan of the need to work hard now to put that doctrine into effect.

Against that background, I ask the Minister to ensure that putting the doctrine of responsibility to protect into effect gets to the top of our foreign policy agenda, with the departments concerned, especially the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence, working closely together so that the tools of our foreign policy—diplomacy, economic aid and our peacekeeping forces—are properly co-ordinated. I am not one of those who advocates the reintegration of the FCO and DfID, but I believe that there is a need for and scope for much closer co-operation between the departments and, in particular, between the instruments of our foreign policy that they control. I ask the Government to look again, as a number of Members of your Lordships' House have already urged, at the misguided cuts in our conflict prevention budget.

In addition, I suggest that we work to ensure the UN General Assembly reconfirms R2P at its meeting next week and agrees on the urgent need to put it into effect; that we make the doctrine a central plank of our foreign policy dialogue with the Obama Administration; that we work within the European Union, for which the Minister is uniquely well placed, and in particular with the Swedish presidency that takes office tomorrow, to put the doctrine at the top of the EU's agenda too; that we work equally hard—I hope that I am not pre-empting here the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell—to put responsibility to protect at the top of the Commonwealth's agenda—no issue plays better than this to the Commonwealth's unique strengths; that we work with the Canadians, as instigators of the doctrine, and as G8 hosts next year, to put the doctrine high the G8 agenda; and that we build up a dialogue on responsibility to protect with the African Union, the charter of which includes the important and welcome principle of non-indifference to grave crimes committed within African Union member states.

Speeches about Britain's foreign policy regularly vaunt the influence we can bring to bear through the network of groupings to which we belong. I have drafted many such speeches myself. Here is an opportunity to show what we mean. Finally, Britain's commitment to implementing this doctrine should be a criterion against which any British Government should be judged, so I greatly look forward to hearing the speeches not only of the Minister but of the Opposition parties too.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 8:26 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for securing and introducing the debate. I extend a particularly warm welcome to my noble friend Lady Kinnock of Holyhead. She brings to this House great experience, wisdom and courage as well as a fine record of commitment to the cause of justice.

I endorse the United Nations report on the responsibility to protect. It identifies four major evils and tries to tell us how to anticipate and deal with them. These evils are genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. I have nothing against the doctrine of responsibility to protect. In fact, I endorse it wholeheartedly. However, as the document is formulated, there are important gaps. I will briefly highlight five of them, and hope that the Minister will feed them into the appropriate channels.

First, those four evils overlap. It is not easy, for example, to distinguish between genocide and crimes against humanity or between genocide and war crimes. Equally importantly, these evils arise differently. Some arise because the state is evil. Others arise because the state has collapsed. In one case, the state is responsible, in the other, the absence of the state is responsible. These two situations need to be distinguished because they call for two kinds of responses. The United Nations document tends to homogenise them and fails to appreciate the need for different strategies.

Secondly, we need to evolve a global consensus on what obligations and responsibilities the outside world has. We tend to assume that the West, or the world at large, has the responsibility to intervene in situations of this kind. There are major powers that take a different view because they have suffered at the hands of the West's doctrine of intervention. China, for example, places great responsibility on the doctrine of sovereignty and does not think that it is its business to interfere when evils of this kind occur. The Chinese have made that very clear in their official policy documents. To some extent, India has tended to take this view as well, because it does not want outside powers to interfere in Kashmir or with lots of other internal problems.

The United Nations document makes the mistaken assumption that there is already a universal consensus on intervening in situations of this kind. That is arrogant and presumptuous. We must develop a global consensus by encouraging a dialogue between the western and Chinese points of view. Both make important points. Unless we do so, we will be working at cross purposes.

The third point that needs some attention is the document's total absence of mention of the need to restructure the United Nations. The United Nations as it is constituted, its structure and procedures, reflect the world of the late 1940s. It is dominated by the Security Council, where five members have the right of veto. The United Nations is seen as just another stage for its members to pursue their national interests. It should become a genuinely global forum where members deliberate in a calm and disinterested manner and reflect the viewpoint of humanity at large. If the United Nations is to carry moral and political authority it will need to be far more representative than it is. Muslim voices and the voices of other developing countries need to be given greater prominence. I should also have thought that the United Nations would benefit greatly if it had a standing commission keeping a global watch on the world at large and alerting the world community to potentially dangerous situations.

Fourthly, in situations of the four evils that we talked about, military intervention sometimes becomes necessary. No one can deny that. But military intervention cannot be the first course of action. When it is undertaken, it needs to be guided by an appropriate ethics, which is absent. There should be clear guiding principles as to when it should be undertaken to ensure consistency in international action. It should be authorised by the United Nations and well judged, because military intervention works in certain situations and not in others. It would not work in Myanmar or Burma today and it would not have worked against Zaire under Mobutu. When the legality of military intervention is in doubt, as it was in the case of Iraq, we should make it a point of law to refer to the International Court of Justice, which would have helped us greatly in the case of Iraq. The purpose of military intervention should be not to run the country or discipline the natives and sort them out but rather to restore normalcy and hope that over time the country, now handed over to its citizens, will be able to manage its own affairs.

My fifth and final point is to do with the need to explore non-military forms of intervention. We have got into a binary opposition: either we abstain and do nothing, or we move in with armed forces. Is there no other way; no middle space that we should be exploring? I should have thought that there are half a dozen ways that we could move in such situations. Countries involved in these four evils could be expelled from international bodies, or recognition given to them in international law can be withdrawn temporarily. We could involve other agencies in civil society—for example, the churches, which wield enormous power. I am struck by the fact that the Buddhist monks endorsed the murder of Pol Pot or that the Vatican itself stayed quiet in relation to Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the clock shows that six minutes are up. We will be reaching into ministerial time.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour

My Lords, I want to end by saying that we need to explore non-military forms of intervention.

Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative 8:32 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, the term United Nations has been much used in the formidable tour d'horizon by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, which I greatly enjoyed, and by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I hope that in particular the three right reverend Prelates on the Bench of Bishops will forgive me if I say—and it is to a certain extent like spitting in church—that I have not always been the greatest admirer of the United Nations on every occasion. I hope that the United Nations gets it right next week in the laudable aims that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has set out. The noble Lord is right: we must always try to help, as we always have done under Governments of both colours. The aims of the responsibility to protect are high and good, but it is much easier to assert or say as some new United Nations norm that if a national Government attack their own people or fail to prevent their starvation then they forfeit their sovereignty, than it is to do something about it in a practical way or find constant and reliable partners to help those who are in the lead to help in this task.

I am also aware that behind the laudable aim of the responsibility to protect there are others who have further agendas that might not be in the national interest of powerful nations such as the United Kingdom. I hope that it is not politically incorrect to talk about national interests in a context where the United Nations is in the forefront. Of course we need to help those who need help, but we should do so throughout by maintaining our ability to take sovereign decisions to dispatch our Armed Forces or to deploy diplomatic pressure or apply and then sustain sanctions or whatever.

Yet I think that there are others who use this excellent instinct of wishing to try to help to promote another and more nebulous concept of some, at present, equally nebulous international community which is going to take over and do all these things. There are a number of organisations which I find rather mysterious but increasingly powerful, referred to as international non-governmental organisations, such as the Open Society Institute or the World Federalist Movement. They wish us to float away completely from national interests, voters and democratic legitimacy, and devise new so-called guiding principles, without much democratic foundation, for members of what is known as the broad international community. They are all anointed by something that I have seen called the "emerging international judicial consensus", whatever that is, and are all supported by lots of new UN special envoys, although mercifully not yet any UN tsars. I advise the UN not to adopt tsars in this concept. I think that the idea of a responsibility to protect is excellent but its broad principles, which I strongly support, must not be hijacked by those who have other agendas along the lines of world government.

Thirdly, we must not let other countries off the hook in sharing the burden of doing rather than sharing the fun and gratification of rhetorical grandstanding. There will always be pleas from others, once the international conference room oratory has stopped, that they are too poor or that they simply do not have the military strength to help, leaving the United Kingdom, the United States—which is so often criticised at the same time as it is looked to for help in these areas—and a few others to bear the unshared burden. I am sorry to use diplomatically incorrect language but it is shameful how little some of our European neighbours have contributed to burden-sharing, not only in recent conflicts but in helping in the humanitarian spin-offs which are so manifest in the world around us. That said, we must stand ready to help throughout—I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said—although I do not think that the UN charter creates any legal obligation as such on members of the Security Council to act in concert in this respect.

Fourthly and lastly—and well within time, as the Whip on the Front Bench will be pleased to hear, let alone the Chief Whip, who I am flattered to see in his place listening intently to my speech—there is one very great conundrum that underlines and underpins this issue, and that is the dilemma to which the noble Lord, Lord Jay, referred. First, do great countries such as the United Kingdom have the moral authority to intervene in anything at all? Secondly, if we decide that we have the might, the means and the moral authority to intervene with some of our allies and friends, any such intervention, however well intentioned, will be seen as imperialism by other means, with stronger nations trampling on the sovereignty of troubled nations. That would certainly be the cry should we be at the borders of a Burma or a Zimbabwe, let alone an Iran if things turn worse there. I, for one, do not know what the answer to this conundrum is, and I hope that next week's deliberations help us to that end.

Photo of The Bishop of Wakefield The Bishop of Wakefield Bishop 8:38 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for making this debate possible. For five and a half years in the 1990s, I was the Archbishop of Canterbury's Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs, so international relations remain one of my key interests. For me, it has been an exciting 10 days. Introduced during the hustings and election for the Speaker in another place, I thank all who have helped my introduction into the House to be painless—so far!

Wakefield diocese is shaped rather like a slim flying saucer—for those who believe in such things. Nevertheless, despite our odd shape, we have made ourselves impossible to miss on your journeys north and south. We have put landmarks on the main routes—Ferrybridge power station on the Al and Emley Moor mast alongside both the MI and the Leeds mainline. Halifax, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Barnsley and Pontefract are just some of our well-known towns.

Despite being land-locked and part of God's own country, Wakefield diocese has strong international links with Sweden, Australia, Pakistan, Tanzania and Georgia. The significant Asian populations in Huddersfield, Halifax and Dewsbury mean that a proper internationalism and a care for security issues are de rigeur for us. For that reason alone, I am enthusiastic to speak in this debate. Since the time of St Augustine of Hippo, Christian ethicists have participated in public debates and private reflection to help refine and clarify what constitutes the appropriate use of military force in statecraft. Participants within this dialogue—jurists, ethicists, politicians and generals—have sought to shape and develop the just war tradition so that its relevance is retained even when applied to entirely new security challenges. Among the Bishops, the the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has contributed seminally to these debates in this House. The development of responsibility to protect as an emerging norm in international relations is evidence of the traction that the just war criteria have in setting out an understanding of international and domestic politics. This sets the political within a context of moral concerns and considerations.

After having taken the initial step—namely, the conceptualisaton and fundamental recognition of R2P—the challenge now is to look at ways in which we can move towards a clearer definition and operation of the responsibility to protect. Only by working through these issues will the international community be successful in preventing crimes against humanity or, at the very least, ending them at an early stage. If it can do that, the international community might yet fulfil its responsibility for the preservation of peace in the 21st century.

There is a risk, however, that in all this we might become too state-centric, so to speak. R2P breaks once and for all with the state-centric concept of humanitarian intervention with its overt reliance on military action. In its place stands a three-pillar concept of security, involving a responsibility to prevent, a responsibility to react and a responsibility to rebuild. This understanding of human security has been part of the core of the R2P norm from the Canadian sponsored report in 2001 through to the publication of the report implementing the responsibility to protect by the UN Secretary-General in January 2009.

In a 24/7 media culture, the focus is invariably on our responsibility to react, but our priority must be on a responsibility to prevent. There is a specific role here for civil society and the churches, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has already suggested. As I noted, Wakefield diocese has formal links with two Anglican dioceses in other countries—the diocese of Mara in Tanzania and the diocese of Faisalabad in Pakistan. It also has vital links with the churches in Georgia. Last summer I was able to issue a statement on behalf of the Church of England urging Georgian restraint and condemning the disproportionate use of force by Russia in the tragic war there.

Our relationship with Mara in Tanzania goes back more than 20 years and has as its motto in Swahili, "Bega kwa bega", which translated means, "Shoulder to shoulder". This motto, which is particularly apt given today's debate, has been practised through many conversations, visits and joint projects by the people of both dioceses which continue to enrich the link. I was there myself last October. It is the myriad of relationships like this that underpin and give meaning to our understanding of responsibility to protect. I very much hope that, in thinking about what steps need to be taken to give effect to the United Nations doctrine of responsibility to protect, Her Majesty's Government recognise that there are those on this Bench who believe that human rights and security are indivisible and that the responsibility to protect is therefore a matter of direct concern for everyone and not just Governments.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 8:45 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, I shall, if I may, be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. He brings wisdom not only across the Thames, as he mentioned, having been the Archbishop's secretary for ecumenical affairs, but across the Tiber as governor of the Anglican Centre in Rome from 1990 when he also joined the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. I think I can say that he was the senior Franciscan "Brother of Penance" because he led the ancient Third Order of St Francis in its European province from 1991 to 1996. He is also chair of the Liturgical Commission. He has obviously set a very good example because his sons, Aidan and Gregory, are both ordained priests. We look forward very much to his future contributions.

I speak as a former staff member and trustee of Christian Aid and I thank my noble friend for introducing the debate. My experience is of small-scale projects where outcomes are measurable and perceptible, and so I can feel a warm glow inside sometimes, unlike my friends who have had to wrestle with great international institutions. I feel empathy with those, both in government and outside, who have promoted civil society within the international system, such as Mr Bernard Kouchner. However, I have misgivings about the ambitions of some human rights workers and politicians to effect regime change in places such as Burma within the new UN doctrine.

The doctrine has already gained support in Westminster, I hear. A group of MPs led by Mr John Bercow, the new Speaker, have signed a resolution in support of responsibility to protect in Burma, so it is coming close. Many people regard parts of the world such as the Congo as a priority for the UN because of the extent of human rights violations over a long period. I admire the way in which the UN force MONUC has survived with the minimum of personnel in very small, remote outposts, and I admire still more how experienced NGOs, such as CARE International and Merlin, have been able to offer protection to thousands of displaced families with very little back-up and protection and rarely any local recognition.

It is precisely because of those years of conflict and neglect in those countries that it would be absurd to pretend that the world has a duty to protect all its vulnerable citizens, because manifestly it does not and cannot. Either the infrastructure is there or there is no political will to do it. The same goes for Zimbabwe and other countries where tyranny has presided over various forms of chaos. This doctrine is evolving and the world has to pick and choose to implement it. Protection, child protection in particular, has long been a hallowed concept within the UN and the civil society extended family.

The General Assembly did well to introduce the R2P doctrine because it belongs directly to the rights-based tradition, but there are many grey areas. Protection can be a de facto consequence of any humanitarian programme. Social exclusion, for example, is an area of development abroad where the responsibility to protect can work with very specific targeted aid programmes, but it will not be among the programme objectives—it just has to happen. I am thinking of work among the Dalit communities in India where there may be daily violence against the low-caste with limited protection from the NGOs trying to defend them.

I am also thinking of various projects of NGOs in various parts of Afghanistan. Here I feel that NGOs are different. They constantly have to stretch their own security rules to the limit because of a separate moral responsibility, while the UN agencies are more likely to operate strictly within the brief. One thinks of UNRWA staff in Gaza. It depends on the personality of the people involved. Only rarely will the off-duty work of an NGO be recognised by the national Government.

I hope that I have a healthy scepticism about what the UN can do. I wish that it could have done more in Palestine and Sri Lanka, but the odds were stacked against it, including the world's apathy. It is easy to list the failures of the international system and difficult to discern what my noble friend Lord Hannay, who cannot be in his place, recently called the,

"emerging patches of genuine progress and rules-based order".

The work with the International Criminal Court and peacekeeping in the Balkans and east Africa are good examples of this.

The implementation of a responsibility to protect is a constant challenge in Africa—I am glad that my noble friend mentioned Sudan. Iraq has so dominated the airwaves that the UN has had no chance of showing its successes. I have had recent personal experience of the remarkable achievement of the UN in Nepal and Kenya, though these cases, too, may be listed as unfinished business. Everything in UN terms is unfinished business. I recognise the particular role of our own diplomats in these examples.

I pay tribute to the UN and voluntary agencies who work with refugees and the displaced. In Kenya, the Dadaab camps were constructed for 90,000 refugees from Somalia. They now have to protect more than three times that number, growing at 7,000 a month. Wherever the NGOs offer an umbrella, the migrants will come in. The R2P is concerned with crimes against humanity but it is not an open-door doctrine. It has to be policed or the genuine refugees will be twice victimised.

I look forward to the maiden speech of the new Minister, whom I warmly welcome to this House.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 8:51 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, it falls to me to be the first person from these Benches to welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield to this House. His was a thoughtful speech that helped point out that there are as many ways of looking at this problem as groups who will be involved in it. This is one of those debates where I know more about the subject now than I did when it started. I see his contribution in that light.

When I found that it had fallen to me to respond for my party on this subject, I went on a fairly steep learning curve—which has got steeper as the debate has gone on. It was explained to me in six points: just cause; right intention; final result; legitimate authority; appropriate means; and reasonable prospects of success. As we went through this, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, spoke of learning, study and getting in early to see whether the intervention can be successful. That suddenly made me think that that is the way to go, but it also terrified me. If you get in early you will make mistakes. You are bound to. There is no way you will not make mistakes. Whether getting in early to make the world a better place—literally, we are talking in global terms here—is a price worth paying for the mistakes made is a horrible decision to have to make for everybody concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, pointed out that the two coming superpowers, China and India, probably have a different take on that to those within the traditional western world. If the UN is to mean anything, the opinions of China and India—particularly if they are in a bloc—must count for a great deal. If we could achieve consensus between the traditional western powers and China and India about defining a doctrine which can be acted upon, early intervention might become a vague possibility. I hope for an intervention that will not have to go down the route of military activity. Clearly the worst-case scenario is a bad or unsuccessful military intervention, something which creates resentment.

Iraq will probably hang over us for a while. Has Iraq been a successful intervention and did it have sufficient authority? We have been over this dozens of times. My opinion and those of my party on this are well known. Have we created a successful state there or have we merely managed to have a pause in an ongoing civil war? I hope the first is what has happened, but a possibility still exists of something hideous happening and intervention there.

As for the value judgments of our own society being placed on other societies, the ruling sections of Iran—the great culture that is Persia—might regard the threat and existence of this as a good reason for cracking down on any opposition to strengthen and protect their vision of what their society should be. It is a difficult job to balance these matters.

I look forward to hearing the Minister sum up. She could have given herself a rather easier ball to catch the first time. She has an extremely difficult job because the main problems with this doctrine concern the type of intervention, where it should take place, and at what level. We should stop people being slaughtered in genocide or ethnic cleansing—I hope that no one in the Chamber is in favour of that in any circumstances—but where do we intervene and how do we do it successfully? The real question is how we can get a doctrine that commands enough support on a worldwide basis. It is a difficult problem that we can only hope to get right most of the time. It would be interesting to know what the Government think are the limitations of our decision-making at this point.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 8:55 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for initiating this short debate. He was very patient when he had to wait a bit. We are all looking forward to the maiden speech by the new Minister for Europe, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. I want to make sure that I leave her enough space to make her speech, which will be a little tricky. Tonight, she has to be the Minister for the whole globe because we are talking about global issues rather than just European ones. We were all very interested to hear the contribution by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, who reminds us of the huge international role of the church. Although it may be fashionable to denigrate spiritual and religious aspects, they are becoming more important than ever as we try to bring sense into the near anarchy of the new globalised system. The role of the right reverend Prelate and his like will increase enormously in coming years.

The doctrine we are taking about, the responsibility to protect, is beyond reproach. The aims are almost unchallengeable. They are to codify the humanitarian intervention procedure within states. This idea was born before 9/11, at the end of the previous century, but since 9/11, it has become many times more searing and relevant to our deliberations about what we are supposed to do. On the one hand, there are states that are living entities of people who form together under their own rights, customs and governments, good or bad, and on the other hand, there are the searing demands of a globalised world with atrocities pitched into our living rooms and onto our websites almost every night. One has to ask whether one can generalise or make general rules, or whether each situation is bound to be fraught with its own conundrums and dilemmas.

I do not know the answer to that but, looking back over the past decade, one has to ask whether it would have been helpful to have had firm rules on intervening in Rwanda, or in Bosnia to deal with the horror of Srebrenica—the worst tragedy of humanitarian intervention that I can remember in my lifetime—or in Kosovo, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur, Zimbabwe—very controversial—or Somalia? What help would it have been in the agonies over Iraq and whether we got United Nations agreement, or whether we are right to be so involved in the Pashtun frontier area between Afghanistan and Pakistan? There are many other places as well.

One can see the need for a general framework, but within it, there will still be agonising decisions about whether to intervene. It is a bit like the proverbial elephant. The case for intervention, whether soft and mild or military and hard, and whether it is likely to succeed is like the elephant; it is difficult to describe and generalise but easy to know when we see it. When we have the horrors of ethnic cleansing etched on our minds or see the agonies of deliberately inflicted starvation, murder and torture, we know it is a case for action. The evils and cruelties of aggressive terrorism have been brought to our doorstep—we see immediately that they, too, are a case for international action.

We then face the problems, discussed this evening, of what kind of intervention; and if it is military force, which of course is the last resort but a resort that we keep resorting to, what kind of military force? Is it self-defence—standing by—or is it becoming involved on one side or another in internal civil wars and other horrors? When we consider United Nations military intervention, do we need new force structures to deal with the asymmetric warfare that we have encountered in Afghanistan and elsewhere, rather than the traditional bringing together of various forces by contributions from different countries that go off to war and often find themselves powerless?

We must also take account of the debate on the nation state. I am not talking about the old doctrine of sovereignty, but about something new. Boutros Boutros Ghali, who was one of the best Secretary-Generals of the United Nations—he was sacked after one term, but he was a superb man—talked about the essential need for a profoundly renewed concept of the state to give the isolated individual identity and fulfil deep needs to belong and love a country. That is in contrast to other, more fashionable talk about the nation state being finished and being superseded. Still others, as we have heard this evening, have talked about the shift of power away from western hegemony and into the hands of the rising Asian states.

I will just say that these feelings of the need to belong and have an identity, even in countries that are sadly disadvantaged, are not reached by talk about the international community, or by remote parliaments and assemblies. This is because the whole texture of international relations has changed very fast in the past 10 to 15 years. Thanks to the internet, international relations are no longer confined to officialdom and to formal relations between Governments. There are a mass of connections and interfaces between semi-public and non-governmental bodies. This is the new fabric that Governments and officialdom sometimes find difficult to grasp. It is the new international network, of which the Commonwealth, which I was delighted to hear mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, is a vital part.

In this new landscape, we must look at the old institutions and reform them. The UN, the Bretton Woods establishment, the World Trade Organisation, the non-proliferation treaty regime, NATO and the European Union—somehow, out of all of this, a fresh, global will must be distilled and sewn together. Perhaps we should start with the democracies—including ours—which are not healthy at the moment; then with the international institutions of the 20th century that all need revising; and then find the true consensus needed to protect all mankind. Just a thought.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Europe) 9:02 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, there can be few Houses in any of the Parliaments of the world in which a new Member is permitted to speak on the first day of membership—and from the Front Bench at that. Clearly, the famed generosity of this House begins at the moment of entry. I am very grateful for that, and for the warm welcome that has been given to me by the staff, by long-valued friends in the House and by new acquaintances in all parts of the House.

In my previous life in the European Parliament and elsewhere, I often had reason to admire the work of the House, particularly the Committee reports produced by your Lordships on issues related to the area of work that I was engaged in—foreign affairs, international development policies, trade policy and the European Union. The quality of the short debate this evening testifies to the experience, expertise and commitment that your Lordships bring to all these vital matters.

I therefore express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for his kind words, for initiating this debate and for the opportunity to highlight the crucial significance of the concept of the responsibility to protect. The noble Lord, particularly through his work as the chair of Merlin, is well aware of the need for speedy and effective responses to emergencies.

I think that we all have seared on our memory the tragedies of Srebrenica, which was mentioned, of Rwanda and of Darfur. Now we grapple with how to deal with the tragic plight of civilians today in Somalia, in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Sri Lanka. My interest in R2P is personal. I was in Rwanda and what was then Zaire in 1994 during the immediate aftermath of the genocide. The memory of those days will stay with me all my life. I have also been to Darfur, to Chad, to south Sudan on a number of occasions, and to the eastern Congo. All the suffering I have seen testifies to the need for us to undertake the shared responsibility, the binding commitment to tackle the structural causes of conflict which include social and economic inequalities, impunity—something that really has not been mentioned—and injustice. I can confirm that the UK Government are fully engaged and indeed were in the vanguard of efforts to ensure that the world summit agreement reached in 2005 included a clear and ground-breaking commitment to R2P. But while we have the tools and the instruments needed to fulfil the responsibility to protect, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, the biggest challenge that remains is how we can make it all work.

First, it is clear that we must strive to create a culture of the responsibility to protect, a culture that is accepted across the world. This is work in progress for our governments. We have to build confidence in the principle that states have a fundamental responsibility to protect their own populations, and indeed we have to bring clarity and acceptability at the United Nations and European Union level to the concept of the responsibility to protect. Secondly, R2P must be a holistic concept in its development and in its application. Many noble Lords have spoken about the four R2P crimes; those crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. But R2P must not just be about responding to such atrocities. It must relate to conflict prevention, mediation and peace-building. It must include efforts to increase awareness of potential tension, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, and listening and then acting when the alarm bells ring.

Thirdly, we must tackle the misconception that R2P is somehow an initiative of the developed world, one that is being imposed on the south. The concept of non-indifference to crimes, which has been mentioned, was actually in the Constitutive Act of the African Union 2000, long before the UN adopted the responsibility to protect. It was the African Union that took an early lead in responding to the violence in Kenya last year when an estimated 600,000 people were displaced. We must also tackle the misconception that R2P is somehow a justification for military intervention. It is not about imposing solutions on countries from outside. It is about encouraging world leaders, politicians and representatives of civil society to play their own parts. It is as much about responsible sovereignty as it is about intervention. That is what I mean when I talk about the culture of R2P.

The Government continue to follow closely developments at both the EU and the UN levels in the run-up to the UN General Assembly debate, which I understand is to take place on 20 July. The UK has welcomed the reaffirmed commitment to R2P in the December report on the implementation of the European Security Strategy and the 2007 EU Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. R2P is a priority for the General Assembly, and I am glad to say that the member states of the European Union have confirmed this. Further to those actions, the Government continue to explore how we can ensure that awareness of R2P informs all our work on conflict, on development and on human rights at the domestic level, at the regional level and globally. We will therefore continue to work to secure better and more effective responses to the four R2P crimes and we will support the building of better early warning systems—which is essential—more deployable military and civilian capacity, and more effective regional reaction, particularly from the African Union and from the European Union. All experience tells us that international diplomacy and mediation, and being prepared to use all the tools at our disposal, is how we should proceed.

The Government have welcomed the UN Secretary-General's report, which is generally well balanced and shows a determination to change those words into deeds. We are particularly focused on the UN General Assembly and the resulting opportunity to build a real consensus on the 2005 agreement and secure practical measures related to the implementation of the Secretary-General's report. This task will involve a high level of political commitment for the foreseeable future. The Government understand that and are committed to fulfilling that aim.

Before I finish, I would like to address some of the outstanding issues raised by noble Lords. I would like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. It is comforting to have a fellow maiden speaker at this debate. I thank him for what he said.

I am also very interested and supportive of the references to South Sudan made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay. I absolutely agree that the peace agreement is looking very shaky at this time. I met people from South Sudan only last week and there is a great deal of doubt and apprehension about the referendum and about the prospect of an election. There is this terrible uncertainty, which, as the noble Lord says, is something we need to watch very carefully in order to ensure that there is no tipping over into yet more fighting and yet more conflict in a part of Sudan that has suffered so much over so many years.

I agree that R2P has to be at the top of foreign policy. Noble Lords can rely on me to understand this and constantly refer to it. It is also important to say that we are working very hard in the FCO, DfID and the MoD; working together perhaps more effectively, and for the long term, to ensure that we can be more coherent in the work across departments.

My noble friend Lord Parekh talked about the five gaps. I can say very clearly that I will take the appropriate action the noble Lord mentioned and will follow through on his points.

R2P is not a legal obligation. That is a very important point for us to realise in this debate. It is a moral and a political commitment that we have made. When you use the term "R2P" people often become very defensive in situations of tension. Quite often you can move things forward more effectively if you do not use that vocabulary.

It is very important for us to say that the suspicion about R2P, to which some noble Lords have referred, is something we need to be aware of, conscious of, and respond to appropriately. It is also important to mention that action can be taken, including that in Chapter 7 at UN level, if military intervention is considered to be appropriate and necessary; that is something that we would be looking at.

We have had a fascinating and wide-ranging debate, and I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. Everyone in this House, including the Government, is committed to working with the international community, to create what I have referred to as a culture of the responsibility to protect.

Finally, on the need to protect, the aim has to be to give resolute and effective meaning to those words, "never again".

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Crossbench 9:14 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may once again welcome her to this House. I congratulate her on a truly impressive maiden speech, combining real experience and deep personal commitment to the issues we have been discussing. The noble Baroness brings great experience of European issues in their broadest sense to this House and, perhaps even more importantly, a real understanding of Europe and great experience of another Parliament. As her speech has shown tonight, that will be of huge value to your Lordships' House, and I am sure that others will join me in saying how much we look forward to further contributions in the months ahead.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.