UN genocide prevention comes up toothless

The United Nation’s Secretary-General recently released a report on the implementation of the so called Five Point Action Plan and the activities of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. For those who aren’t familiar with the plan, it was originally proposed back in 2004 and can be boiled down to a single paragraph, as it was in this 2006 report for the Human Rights Council:

On 7 April 2004, in his address to the Commission on Human Rights on the occasion of a special meeting to observe the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, the Secretary-General outlined a Five Point Action Plan to prevent genocide, which included the following: (a) preventing armed conflict, which usually provides the context for genocide; (b) protection of civilians in armed conflict including a mandate for United Nations peacekeepers to protect civilians; (c) ending impunity through judicial action in both national and international courts; (d) early and clear warning of situations that could potentially degenerate into genocide and the development of a United Nation’s capacity to analyse and manage information; and (e) swift and decisive action along a continuum of steps, including military action.

While it seems like this is a fairly intelligent and obvious list of steps one would need to take in order to stave off genocide, the reality is that effective action in halting violence is one of those things that time-and-again have stymied international bodies. As United Press International recently wrote:

The report of the secretary-general on the implementation of the Five Point Action Plan on the Prevention of Genocide said more work needs to be done to strengthen the activities of the special adviser on the prevention of genocide.

The report concluded that the United Nations in general “has experienced difficulty” in recognizing the signs of outbreaks of violence that could lead to genocide and in intervening early enough to make a difference.

Ask anyone who works in this field if “recognition” is the problem and you’ll most likely get a clinched-toothed “no.” Simply put, genocide is often easy to spot, but the United Nations and her members, even when faced with hard-and-fast evidence of genocide (as it was in Rwanda), are extremely wary of intervention.

As this report once again affirms, the United Nations remains committed to an approach that recognizes and fully respects the sovereignty of States and sees sovereignty as a positive concept of State responsibility to protect those under its jurisdiction, respect their human rights, and seek international support when needed. While respecting the sovereignty of an individual nation is without a doubt important for insuring participation in the United Nations, it’s unlikely that a country in the midst of a genocidal furor is going to take the responsibility of protecting its own citizens as paramount, since that’s contrary to the very definition of genocide.

It does, however, ensure that other member nations, who may be inclined to aid those who are suffering at the hands of genocidaires, will keep conflicts at arm’s length in order to maintain the principle of “fully respect[ing] the sovereignty of States.” It’s this kind of backwards thinking realpolitik diplomacy that allows genocide to happen without threat of intervention.