Sunday, August 14, 2005

The UN and Genocide

Oxfam wants the US, Russia, India and Brazil to support changes at the UN which would force it to react more quickly to genocide.

To be perfectly honest, I am feeling a bit UN skeptical at the moment. Everything the Security Council needs to act quickly in response to genocide is in the UN Charter. I would argue that generally, genocide is a sufficient threat to peace and security for the Security Council to impose sanctions under Ch 7, or use force to restore order. If genocide is not serious enough to trigger these provisions, then what is? Can we only restore peace and security when a country has invaded or is about to invade another?

I am of the opinion that no amount of words will ever make the UN act quickly in response to acts of genocide, UNLESS there is a political, economic or other benefit to be had. How many genocides have we had in (my) living memory? As a start, Rwanda, Bosnia/Serbia, Sudan/Darfur, the list goes on. My question and the point of this post is this: if the UN Charter provided something like 'all Member States must act to prevent genocide in whatever form against whatever group in whatever circumstances at whatever time', do you really think any of the abovementioned examples would have been prevented? I am extremely doubtful.

Now, these words could be replaced by anything, my point is that even if the Charter requires action at the drop of a hat, it's not going to happen. The Charter requires lots of things, and in some arguments is now customary international law. So what? That doesn't mean its provisions will ever be enforced. It doesn't mean that States will have no option but to act when genocide occurs.

OF COURSE States need to act with all possible speed against not only genocide, but situations which could develop into genocide. The problem is, States will not act, regardless of whether they are required to do so, unless there is sufficient political or economic pressure placed on them by the event or other nations. That pressure is not going to come from our present UN Charter, now or in the future.


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