U.S. Support for U.N. Genocide Measure Urged
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
At the United Nations, diplomats are working on a set of reforms ahead of next month's world summit in New York. One key issue: the international community's responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. NPR's Corey Flintoff has the story.
COREY FLINTOFF reporting:
The discussion is haunted by the memory of mass killings and crimes against humanity in the past dozen years.
Mr. RICHARD WILLIAMSON (Former Assistant Secretary of State): The international community has tried to grapple with its failure to address the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the brutality and suffering that that genocide caused, where 800,000 people were killed mostly by machetes in a hundred days.
FLINTOFF: Richard Williamson is a former assistant secretary of State who worked at the UN in the UN Human Rights Commission. There was a 1948 convention on genocide that could have been the basis for international action in both Darfur and Rwanda. But Nicola Reindorp of the aid group Oxfam International says the '48 convention wasn't enough.
Ms. NICOLA REINDORP (Oxfam International): What you had in the case of Rwanda and you have had in Darfur is quibbling over definitions, which has enabled governments to slow the pace of action.
FLINTOFF: Oxfam wants the UN to adopt language that would legally bind the international community to take action to protect civilians against atrocities if their own countries are unwilling or unable to do so. But Reindorp says the plan faces opposition.
Ms. REINDORP: From what we hear, this draft commitment that's currently on the table is going to come under intense pressure from those governments that are determined to block this deal. This includes governments like Pakistan, India, Russia, Brazil, Syria, Egypt and Cuba.
FLINTOFF: Reindorp says her group has also been given to understand that the US has resisted legally binding language establishing the responsibility to protect.
Ms. REINDORP: But for Oxfam, this is precisely the force of the commitment that is being negotiated this week in all cases of grave atrocities like genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, some of the worst things that human beings can do to each other. We--in the 21st century, governments will come together to commit to timely and decisive action.
FLINTOFF: A US official speaking on background acknowledged that American lawyers involved in the negotiations don't want to have a UN document that legally binds Washington to take action. Richard Williamson, the former assistant secretary of State, says even countries that support the responsibility to protect haven't embraced that responsibility themselves in some recent crises.
Mr. WILLIAMSON: Some of those that are very happy to embrace it for the PR benefit are the same countries that opposed action in Darfur and elsewhere.
FLINTOFF: He adds that even if the US resists legally binding language on the responsibility to protect, Washington has shown that it is willing to take on moral obligations to protect civilians in Bosnia, Kosovo and in Darfur.
Mr. WILLIAMSON: I think the US has a record post-Rwanda of trying to step up to its moral responsibilities.
FLINTOFF: The responsibility-to-protect language will be competing for discussion time with other issues, including reforming the UN's management, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. It's not clear at this point what will make it into the document that world leaders will try to approve in September. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Washington.
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