Two generations ago, the United Nations promised in its 1945 Charter, "We the people of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scrouge of war..." Just two years ago, in its International Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, it determined that "the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect." More than six weeks ago, the Security Council agreed its "historic" Resolution 1706, later followed by President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Brown's call for action in Darfur.
So why, one might reasonably ask, is it still left down to thousands of grassroots activists across the world to urge the United Nations, "Don't Look Away Now"? The world's fourth Day for Darfur, tomorrow, prompts me to reproduce a letter that I wrote to The Times almost exactly a year ago:
Note: As I have observed previously, even now that the UN has agreed to send in additional troops, their remit excludes adequate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, they are to be referred to as an "operation" rather than a "force," and they will only be able to protect civilians deemed to be under threat. So, the Sudanese Government need not worry unduly about its "national sovereignty" being threatened...
We need action to avoid slaughter in SudanThe Sudanese Government claims that any UN peacekeepers sent to save lives in Darfur would represent a threat to the country’s national sovereignty.
Yet, for more than a year, 10,000 UN forces have been in Sudan, and the Sudanese Government has made no claim that these troops interfere with its sovereignty. The difference is that, until now, the mandate of these Unamis forces has not included the protection of civilians’ lives.
During its World Summit last September the UN took the bold step of revising the principle of non-interference enshrined in its charter, asserting that it has a responsibility “to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
However, in truth, it already had the authority to uphold human rights where member states have conferred sovereignty on the UN through international treaties and covenants. If the UN is going to be able to take effective action against genocidal regimes, then it must now also redefine the concept of national sovereignty.
Sovereignty surely belongs to and is bestowed on governments by the people of a country, and any regime that violates the rights of the people under it so as to strengthen its grip on power should not be considered sovereign.
Failure to address this issue will inevitably mean that the UN will remain paralysed when confronted with obstructive, tyrannical regimes and Sudan will become but the first genocide of the 21st century, not the last.