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The Powerless world of R2P (Responsibility To Protect)

By Priya Ravichandran

India should raise its voice against the state sponsored genocide of Shias and Balochs in Pakistan. R2P be damned.

Samantha Power in her book A Problem from Hell: America and the age of Genocide tries to shed light on the complicated history of Genocide and the inability of the US to prevent them or deter them from happening. The book is in some ways a plea for the US to change its role from a passive self interested power to one that can act more decisively to stop crimes against humanity almost single handedly. She writes about and quotes Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term “Genocide”. Lemkin, as quoted in the book, in a letter to New York Times wrote:

“It seems inconsistent with our concepts of civilization that selling a drug to an individual is a matter of worldly concern, while gassing millions of human beings might be a problem of internal concerns. It seems also inconsistent with our philosophy of life that abduction of one woman for prostitution is an international crime while sterilization of millions of women remains an internal affair of the state in question.”

Her efforts to push the US to accept a bigger role in the prevention and deterrence of genocides and crimes against humanity, coupled with a UN effort post Rwanda led to the 2005 world summit affirmation of the Responsibility To Protect (R2P) act that directed

“each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” They agreed that, when appropriate, the international community should assist States in exercising that responsibility by building their protection capacities before crises and conflicts break out. However, when a state is “manifestly failing” to protect its population from the four specified crimes, the Heads of State and Government confirmed that the international community was prepared to take collective action, through the Security Council and in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

India was one of a group of countries that signed the charter, after much deliberation and discussion.

R2P is back more prominently in the news now since its use in Libya, the debates surrounding its effectiveness if used in Syria, electing Samantha Power as US ambassador to the UN and a detailed report by Madeline Albright and Richard Williamson exhorting the many advantages of the act.

Self patting and a very biased and self interested view to preventing mass atrocities seems to be the central theme of the book and the report though. Pushing the US towards acting almost unilaterally or by arm twisting in matters of genocide, instead of using the atrocities as a chance for greater engagement in the UN and for greater empowerment of more countries seems to be over arching theme. The R2P’s blinkered response to preventing state sponsored genocide is very evident in the report. Balochistan, and the state sponsored genocide of Shiites and Balochs in Pakistan are not mentioned even is passing. It is appalling that the systematic and continuous decimation of an entire population remains unseen, unheard and unspoken of in the international arena in spite of the many attempts made by the Shia community to the UN, US and the EU.

More than 10,000 Shiites have been openly eliminated since 1963. That remains a conservative estimate. Groups like LeJ and the state-sponsored SeS openly and with government support operate and call for greater support in their mission to completely eliminate the minority population in Pakistan.

Even the diplomatic means that Ms Albright in her piece in Politico points out has not been put in place. She writes that:

The idea is to generate preventive diplomacy, increased development aid, sanctions, and other tools to avoid the military options that might be necessary when prevention fails and atrocities commence.

Neither the US, the EU, the UN nor India have forced the issue of the Shiite genocide on the international stage by using the above mentioned “diplomatic means” in an attempt to bring Pakistan to task for these state sponsored crimes. State sovereignty and internal conflict apart, when a whole ethnic or religious group like the Balochs and the Shias continue to be targeted and massacred brutally, the international community including India has to step up. The issue becomes one of saving people, period.

R2P is a complicated and a very defective and imperfect means for use as a preemptive and preventive policy against genocide. Brazil, India and South Africa have spoken against R2P and many of its interventionist policies and have received flak for it. Reports like the one Ms Albright and Mr Williamson wrote are means to push harder for something that selectively picks and chooses genocides that matter. That US pushes for countries that matter to its own national interests is without doubt, but genocides cannot be a multiple choice question. To counter it and to force the US and the EU to think beyond their own strategic and national interests requires much more than a speech critiquing it by the leaders of the IBSA group. India especially needs to step and and start raising its voice in the international stage.

By remaining voiceless for fear of dissent and critique of its own internal policies, India risks being sidelined in the global arena. India’s fear of being portrayed as an interfering big brother in the subcontinental region does disservice to the fact that it has and is one of the more stable democracies in the area with a long standing commitment to peace, security and stability in the region. A genocide on its borders not only challenges these ideals but directly affects regional stability. India can’t afford to keep quiet and risk a Pakistan imploding slowly. India can, given its unique situation and should raise the issue repeatedly until some action is taken. In a multilateral world with no real central institution to direct attention to mass atrocities, and no one global system to move towards peaceful resolution of regional conflicts, countries like India, Brazil and South Africa are uniquely placed to create their own systems of engagement and ensure that every regional voice is heard in a institute like the UN currently dominated by the US and the EU.

R2P with all its flaws, biases and US centric measures will not work in these regions. For all of Ms Albright’s belief that R2P has a diplomatic side to it, the military aspects of an act like this, especially in post colonial countries cannot and will not work effectively. What will work has to be worked out. India can for now persuade activists, NGOs and academics to take greater interest and talk, write and push for greater attention to the genocide. Informal engagements with Baloch and Shiite activists can bring more interest and attention to their cause. The very hippy, cloying Love, Peace and Music aspects of campaigns like “Aman Ki Asha” must be set aside. Peace or engagement with a country that actively sponsors genocide and crimes against humanity should not be an option. It is time that India took a stand and stopped the decade long genocide on its borders.