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UNSC impasse no bar to international intervention

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 16:38 No Comment]

Opposition from Russia and China to placing Sri Lanka’s humanitarian crisis on the agenda of the United Nations Security is no bar to international action to stop what the UN has called a bloodbath. Since the end of the Cold War, ‘humanitarian intervention’ to save populations being brutalized or subject to genocide by their states has become part of international practice. The United States, Britain, France, Russia have all taken action outside the UNSC, either unilaterally or as coalitions of like-minded states. Intervention is not only by military force, but also economic sanctions and other punitive measures against abusive states.

In 1999, despite opposition by Russia and China, the United States and other NATO countries intervened militarily in Kosovo, following the Serbian regime’s onslaught against the ethnic Albanians there.

A UN interim administration was imposed pending resolution of the conflict and now, following a referendum, Kosovo is an independent state, recognized by Western states and many others.

Kosovo’s independence is still opposed by Russia and China, who vehemently opposed UN intervention to protect the Kosovars from Serbian aggression.

In 2000, Britain unilaterally intervened militarily in Sierre Leone to stop the anarchic bloodletting there and impose stability, later handing over to the UN to renew and foster the state.

In 2008, Russia unilaterally intervened militarily in Georgia to protect the populations of South Ossetia from what Moscow called Georgia’s “genocide”, going on to recognise the independence of the region, as well as Abkhazia, another homeland seeking independence from Georgian rule.

France has launched a number of unilateral military operations in conflicts-cum-humanitarian crises in Côte d’Ivoire (2002), Chad (2006), and the Central African Republic (2006, 2007) all outside UNSC mandates.
Indeed, the most obvious military intervention in defiance of the UNSC was of course the US-UK led invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003. It took place despite the opposition of France as well as Russia and China. Many other EU countries, including Germany vehemently opposed the move.

However, just as importantly, from 1991 to 2003, the US, UK and France maintained “no-fly” zones over northern and southern areas of Iraq to prevent Saddam’s forces from continuing their slaughter of the Kurdish and Shia populations.

The justification was that the acute humanitarian crisis in these places made it necessary to infringe the sovereignty of Iraq in this way. Russia and China vehemently opposed the US-UK-France intervention.
The no-fly zones, in place for over a decade, were not authorised by the United Nations and not specifically sanctioned by any Security Council resolution.

Last year, Russia’s and China again blocked UNSC rulings condemening Zimbabwe. Western states could never got support for UNSC-backed sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s regime.

But Western states have long unilaterally imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe anyway, barring Western corporations from funding the regime.

Despite a power-sharing deal between government and opposition in Zimbabwe, the United States said last month it will not lift sanctions on Zimbabwean leaders, or consider direct aid to the Harare government, until there is more progress on democratic reforms and human rights.

Even China, a long-standing defender of sovereignty, has passed a law making possible military intervention in Taiwan.

The present French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, is a long-time advocate of humanitarian intervention.

He backed the removal of Saddam Hussein (but criticized the handling of the aftermath) arguing that dictatorships should be ended and international focus should be on the actual people, rather than states, and that they (people) are the only ones who could answer yes or no to war.

As he also once put it, in relation to Kosovo, “Unfortunately, [when] people have a problem with living in a multi-ethnic environment and we cannot force them to love one another.”

“I would have liked to have intervened in Kosovo back in 1992. We got involved belatedly in Bosnia and three weeks later the war was over. Quod erat demonstrandum,” he told the ICRC magazine, referring to international action in 1995, three years after the massacres began.

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