Syria, International Law, our bloodied hands and the elephant in the room

The situation is Syria haunts me, I know it is not rational, but the fact that I have absolutely no idea of what should be done never fails to make watching the news almost unbearable. It’s illogical: I know perfectly well that there are plenty of other conflicts that we never (or rarely, as for the case of Sudan) hear about, and that in any case, I can do nothing to alleviate the suffering they cause. But still, for me, having an idea of what would be a sensible strategy usually helps to put my mind at rest. Knowing what should be done, and why my representatives (the politicians that act in my name) do not want to do it, at least allows me to transform the blunt pain and frustration into explicit anger, an emotion that I find easier to handle.

I will not try to add my own commentary on the Syrian situation, there is plenty of better informed comment around; if you want to read some, a good starting point is here. What I want to do is highlight the recurrent problem that invariably shows up whenever a sovereign state blatantly violates its own Responsibility to Protect and happens to have a friend among the permanent members of the UN Security Council. When this happens, the International Community becomes powerless, and the Security Council openly renounces to its primary responsibility to “maintain international peace and security”.

Everyone knows why, and the only people who have a slight chance to change this murderous situation, never seem ready to even name the real problem. So here it is, the permanent members have an absurd and utterly unjustifiable Right to Veto any resolution of the Security Council. In this case, Russia and China are prepared to use the veto, making any prospect of international military intervention certainly unlawful. All other permanent members have used their right to veto in the past, and will use it again in the future whenever they find it necessary to protect their own interests.

The sad truth is that as long as the Right to Veto exists, human rights defence and the resolution of humanitarian crises will always be subordinate to the interests of the five Permanent Member States of the UN Security Council. This has been, is and will be the main reason why the International Community is frequently unable to prevent and stop mass murder perpetrated by sovereign states and/or international combatant organisations and it is a disgrace that taunts every citizen of such countries.

Will it be easy to revoke the right to veto? No, but the only people who can try to do so are the citizens of the permanent members, it is their responsibility. If one or more permanent states openly declares its intention to reform the UN charter (the right to veto is implicitly stated in Article 27, Wikipedia has a clear explanation of why) so to abolish this absurdity, this will guarantee (or at least go some way towards ensuring) that no one can continue to ignore the elephant in the room, and things may start to move in the right direction. Even if the reform will never happen, the simple fact that one permanent member is prepared to surrender this power will put some pressure on the other members to use it sparingly and in a way that is at least superficially justifiable in the eyes of the global public.

I am Italian, so I have no formal say on this matter, but I will act just the same: what I propose is simple. Every UK citizen should contact her/his own MP, stating something like:

I wanted to let you know that I consider the UK right to veto in the UN Security Council unjustifiable and disgraceful. I personally consider it my duty to express my contrariety. In my opinion, every citizen that openly supports the Right to Veto is explicitly supporting a view of International Law that upholds brute force and historic privilege while neglecting the core principles of the UN declaration of human rights. For this reason I would like to know your position on the subject.

– or any variation on this theme. Whenever your MP changes, it would be a good idea to send the letter once more. If you are a citizen of any other (democratic, or at least formally democratic) member state, the same or similar strategy could work as well.

I will send something similar to my MP (even if I don’t have the right to vote for the UK general elections) and publish her reply here, if and when I receive it.

Of course, trying to engage larger organisations and the media is the only way to give this sort of initiative a chance to become significant; therefore I will contact 38 Degrees and see what they say.

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Posted in Politics

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