Saturday, January 31, 2009

This is What We're Talking About

US envoy backs UN's 'responsibility' to civilians

By JOHN HEILPRIN – 1 day ago

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, in her first appearance before the U.N. Security Council, signaled Thursday that the new U.S. administration feels a "responsibility" to sometimes take on nations that abuse their own citizens.

"As agreed to by member states in 2005 and by the Security Council in 2006, the international community has a responsibility to protect civilian populations from violations of international humanitarian law when states are unwilling or unable to do so," Rice told the council in a closed-door session.

"The United States takes this responsibility seriously," Rice said, according to a transcript of her remarks.

During the past year the U.N. has debated whether it has a responsibility to protect civilians in such cases. Last May the council discussed a proposal by France to authorize the U.N. to enter Myanmar and deliver aid without waiting for approval from the nation's ruling military junta. Several countries, citing issues of sovereignty, blocked the idea.

Rice also emphasized that the U.S. would work to strengthen protections for civilians in conflict zones and support international prosecutions of war crimes.

"It is in this spirit of cooperation and determination that we will seek to use this body of international law to minimize human suffering and protect vulnerable populations," Rice said.

She said the International Criminal Court "looks to become an important and credible instrument for trying to hold accountable the senior leadership responsible for atrocities committed in the Congo, Uganda, and Darfur."

The U.S. opposed the court's creation and for the past decade refused to join it. Nevertheless, it has been a key supporter of bringing Sudan's president before the court on charges of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region.

Rice also defended Israel while pressuring it to account for its military actions.

"Violations of international humanitarian law have been perpetrated by Hamas through its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel and the use of civilian facilities to provide protection for its terrorist attacks. There have also been numerous allegations made against Israel some of which are deliberately designed to inflame," Rice said.

"We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate," she said.
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Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The first argument might be expected to inflame China and Russia (click on this post's title for an excellent article on Russia's latest human-rights embarrassment, in Chechnya), but I think they actually will suck it up and move on: Do they really care? I think not. Security Council votes apply to other countries, ones that don't have vetoes. At least we'll be on the right side of some of these issues as we go forward.

Meanwhile, Russia has already signaled that the phony outrage over missile defense is over. We won't pretend we can stop their missiles, and they won't pretend they can build a missile defense, either.

As for the Israel bit, we can see here that this "even-handed support" for the Israelis that the Obama administration is attempting is clearly proving to be tricky. As almost any Israeli (or Palestinian) would tell you: You can not support my enemy and be my friend. To ignore the danger in this position is to invite a problem like Ronald Reagan had when he put the Marines into Lebanon (and how, exactly, did he survive that disaster politically? Frankly, I can't remember.)

Here's a thought: When the two states are headed by Hamas and by Benyamin Netanyahu--as that seems to be where events are pointing--how can there be any solution?

Democratically-elected state leaders are far from immune from looking to use warfare as a political tool. Just look at our last eight years (though the democratically-elected part could be debated). In the case of Olmert, his Israeli left-center government, and the attacks on Gaza, it now appears not to have worked politically, after all.

I think it would be great if George Mitchell could get a strong cease-fire into place in Gaza (with some kind of Egyptian support). That would be an unambiguously positive development and give some time to calm things down, hopefully prevent or limit Netanyahu's electoral victory, and give folks time to work out exactly how many states and what kind of solvent.

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