If Genocide Doesn't Spark a 'Just War,' What Does?

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The crisis in Darfur points to the need for a new way to prevent genocide and other human-rights abuses says commentator Joe Loconte. Two years ago, the United Nations reported on the reign of terror in Darfur, but it's taken until now for peace accords to be signed. Loconte says that a new policy, based on the Christian "just war" tradition, should be developed to use force to prevent genocide.

JOE LOCONTE: The crisis in Darfur has driven home the need to look beyond the United Nations to prevent human rights atrocities.


Commentator Joe Loconte.

LOCONTE: Up until now the U.N. has failed to protect hundreds of thousands of people in danger in Sudan. Two years ago, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights reported massive human rights violations against civilians committed by the Sudanese Government and its proxy militia. The UN report concluded, it is clear that there is a reign of terror in Darfur.

But the reign of terror continued as the U.N. Security Council issued toothless resolutions, and the U.N.'s Commission on Human Rights re-elected Sudan as a member in good standing. We need a new approach to humanitarian intervention. Political theorists such as Jean Bethke Elshtain are inspired by the Christian tradition of a just war. That tradition upholds the God-given worth of every human life, and insists on the state's responsibility to defend that life against harm, using force if necessary.

Elshtain argues that it is an ideal of international justice whose time has come. Many conservatives aren't so sure. They fear the responsibility to protect doctrine would drag the U.S. military into conflicts around the globe. Others worry it would weaken the concept of sovereignty enshrined in the U.N. charter. There are risks here. Many liberals remain slavishly devoted to the U.N. Security Council as the only legitimate institution to confront human rights crisis. But think about it, The 15 nation body, a mix of democracies and dictatorships, grants veto power to autocratic regimes such as China and Russia, yet somehow it's expected to defend society's weakest members. Does anyone remember Rwanda?

The authority to wage a just war to protect innocent lives is best left to Democratic states not confined to a global junta unaccountable to ordinary citizens. We need to explore forming a coalition of democracies working through NATO that can act to prevent genocide when the United Nations refuses to act.

Those threatened by the designs of wicked men, the women and children sleeping tonight in Sudanese refugee camps, wondering if they'll be alive in the morning, They have nothing to lose from such a venture and everything to gain.

SIEGEL: Joe Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He was a human rights advisor to the congressional task force on the United Nations.

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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