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UN: Responsibility to Protect — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:38 pm on 30th June 2009.

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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.