Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sweden, the United Nations, and the Responsibility to Protect

The Embassy of Sweden held an event this past Tuesday dealing with a relatively new theory concerning the international community’s ability to react to humanitarian emergencies. The ‘Responsibility to Protect’, or R2P, is a concept in international relations in which the international community is called upon to intervene in situations where a state is incapable (or unwilling) to act upon humanitarian crises. The discussion was moderated by the Director of the United Nations Information Center, Will Davis, and featured, as the main speaker, the Swedish Permanent Representative to the United Nations, H.E. Anders Lidén. The panelists included Ambassador Princeton N. Lyman, and editor Tod Lindberg.

Representative Lidén began the discussion by affirming Sweden’s constant support of R2P; this support standing despite the controversy it stirs in nations with a vested interest in national sovereignty concerning perceived ‘humanitarian threats’. Although he would not name these nations, the discussion turned later to Russia’s opposition to the concept vis-à-vis the situation in Chechnya, and China’s unwillingness to compromise regarding the issue of Tibet. He then elaborated on situations in which international involvement could have prevented great tragedies if the framework for intervention had been in place, citing Kosovo, Rwanda and the Kurdish situation in Iraq. He then quoted Sweden’s speech to the General Assembly, saying “States have the Responsibility to Protect within our own borders…anyone within our borders.” He then clarified that citizens abroad are no longer under the jurisdiction of national sovereignty, but in the realm of that respective nation’s obligation of protection.

The two panelists each discussed their particular concerns and vision for the future of R2P in the short time that followed. Ambassador Lyman stressed that the current understanding of what R2P’s true place is in international affairs is still to be determined, and an agreement as to the definition of the concept has yet to be decided. Citing national sovereignty issues, he emphasized the need for an international coalition that bestows efficiency to the concept without facing a veto from concerned nations. Todd Lindberg then shared his belief that the U.S. is indeed moving forward on this issue, and supporting R2P in some form. He mentioned a discussion with African Union leaders he had, in which they referred to the basic notion of R2P as a “principle of non-indifference”, and that the U.S. is obligated to work towards achieving a consensus on this issue for the good of the nation, as well as people of the world.

Date: November 12th, 2008
Location: The Embassy of Sweden
Attended by: Jon C. McCahill

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