The Background to Responsibility to the Protect
Brian Steidle, a former United States Marine captain who served in Kosovo and who is now a human rights activist, journalist and photographer shares the following experience from when he served as a monitor for the African Union in the Darfur region of western Sudan:
Ahmed and I headed toward a large nim tree on the outskirts of Wash al tool, where 250 homeless women and children had stopped earlier in the day to share in the small piece of shade. They had escaped the initial conflict in Alliet, a town of 15,000 we had just visited. The village was the most recent to fall prey to Government of Sudan troops in what was now described by Western diplomats – publicly, if belatedly – as genocide …
The baby's breathing was labored, and she was wheezing noticeably. Upon closer inspection, I realized that this tiny human being had been shot in the back – the child had gaping entry and exit wounds that accentuated her struggle to breathe. Her guardian looked up at me with a blank gaze.
“What's her name?” I stammered, my sense of disbelief audible in my tone.
“Mihad Hamid”, she said after a quick translation of my question.1
… In Baraka, 10 villagers had been tortured and brutally murdered by the Janjaweed … Several bloody corpses filled a shallow grave. They were lined up in a row and covered with grass mats. Images from the Holocaust and Rwanda filled my mind. I looked closer. Every single man in this countless row of African civilians had had his eyes plucked out and his ears cut off.2
During that six-month stint as one of three United States military observers assigned to Darfur, Steidle witnessed many horrific atrocities, which are documented in his book, The Devil Came on Horseback. The title refers to the Janjaweed, a faction accused of much of the genocide in Darfur. According to the United Nations, 200,000 people have been killed, 2.5 million have been driven from their homes to refugee camps, and 4 million have been directly affected by the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan and neighbouring Chad.3 In view of such crimes against humanity, a new international norm, “the responsibility to protect” (R2P), has emerged.
The phrase first appeared in a 2001 report by that title4 issued by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, an initiative of the Canadian government to reflect on how to move beyond the moral and jurisprudential obstacles surrounding what was referred to as “humanitarian intervention” during the 1990s in connection with “the kinds of catastrophic assaults on individuals and communities that the world has witnessed”5 in countries such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. The United Nations subsequently studied this proposal, and at the 2005 World Summit, member states endorsed R2P. A report in January 2009 from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” led to further debate, and a resolution by the General Assembly in July 2009 committed the body to more discussion of R2P.6
For its part, the World Council of Churches (WCC), as a component of its Decade to Overcome Violence, has studied, debated and come to affirm R2P. The recommendations of a report from the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs under the title “The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflections” were endorsed by the WCC central committee in 2003. This was followed by the adoption in February 2006 of the statement “Vulnerable Populations at Risk: Statement on the Responsibility to Protect”, during the WCC's ninth assembly at Porto Alegre, Brazil.7 Most recently, in 2009, the WCC invoked R2P to spark international concern about Israel's actions in Gaza.8 The Roman Catholic Church also has begun to refer to R2P, with Pope Benedict XVI mentioning it in his address to the General Assembly of the UN on 18 April 2008 and, more recently, in his major social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which was issued on 29 June 2009, calling for R2P's implementation.9 Although there certainly continues to be debate about the concept in the international public square as well as within the churches, R2P seems to be gaining purchase as we embark upon this second decade of the 21st century.10
Gareth Evans, who conducted pioneering work on R2P, believes it provides a “new way of talking about the whole issue of humanitarian intervention”.11 R2P nuances and qualifies national sovereignty, which is no longer understood as an absolute right to non-interference. Instead, state sovereignty entails responsibilities on the part of a nation to its own citizens; however, if a state fails to fulfill its primary responsibility to protect its own citizens, this responsibility transfers to the international community. The focus, as former WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser puts it, is on “the human security of all people everywhere”, especially those most at risk.12 R2P seeks to prevent and stop four crimes – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing – and involves three primary obligations: the responsibility to prevent (addressing the root and direct causes of conflict putting populations at risk); the responsibility to react (responding to egregious threats to human security through appropriate measures, including coercive measures such as sanctions and, in extreme cases, forceful military intervention); and the responsibility to rebuild (assisting with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, as well as addressing the causes of the threat that the intervention averted or stopped).
A 2001statement, “The Protection of Endangered Populations in Situations of Armed Violence: Toward an Ecumenical Ethical Approach”, presented to the WCC Central Committee, emphasized a Christian ethic of “just peacemaking” to prevent conflict, build peace, resolve disputes and reconcile adversaries.13 This paradigm was made popular in recent years by American Baptist ethicist Glen Stassen, whose edited book14 contains essays exploring ten proactive practices that have been empirically shown as realistic and effective for preventing wars, whether between or within nations. These include non-violent direct action, cooperative conflict resolution, advancing democracy and human rights, fostering just and sustainable economic development, strengthening the United Nations and other international efforts and institutions, and more. As this new paradigm has gained traction among churches in the WCC, they now “agree on one thing: the importance of preventive efforts designed to avoid or tackle a crisis before it escalates”.15
The 2001 statement from the WCC Central Committee, however, noted an ongoing debate that “revealed clearly the different theological perspectives among member churches with respect to violence and non-violence”.16 Four years later, Evans observed that “the question of military action remains, for better or worse, the most prominent and controversial one in the debate”.17 In particular, Christians who emphasize nonviolence – especially those in the historic peace churches – remain reluctant to express their support for the use of force to protect the vulnerable.18 This attitude should not be surprising, given that similar disagreement lingered among the contributors, consisting of both pacifists and proponents of just war, to Stassen's volume on just peacemaking. The chapter that sparked the most controversy was written by Michael Joseph Smith, a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. In language very similar to R2P, he called for the strengthening of the UN by developing “the capacity to identify, prevent, and, if necessary, intervene in conflicts within and between states that threaten basic human rights”.19 Although a consensus was reached about the importance of just peacemaking practices, unanimity was not achieved concerning the possible legitimacy of forceful interventions. So, too, it appears, is this the case at present among WCC members concerning R2P.20
In an effort to get beyond this impasse, some – including members of the historic peace churches – have suggested that viewing R2P as a form of policing rather than a military action might offer a fruitful avenue to pursue. The Mennonite Ernie Regehr writes, “Just as individuals and communities in stable and affluent societies are able in emergencies to call on armed police to come to their aid when they experience unusual or extraordinary threats of violence or attack, churches recognize that people in much more perilous circumstances should have access to protectors.”21 Indeed, the 2006 WCC statement from Porto Alegre quotes this line almost verbatim and goes on to posit that force “deployed and used for humanitarian purposes” should be seen as “more related to just policing” than to “military war-fighting”.22 To be sure, similar calls for a “police” rather than a “war” approach to dealing with terrorism arose from a number of prominent Christian writers in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Jim Wallis, the editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, admonished US Christians to view the terrorist bombings as a “crime against humanity” that should be addressed by “global police” responsible for preventing future threats and defending innocent lives.23
Likewise, Stanley Hauerwas, an influential pacifist Christian theologian, said that he “would certainly like to start envisioning the possibility of that kind of police force” as a “good” alternative to war.24 Some notable just war experts also suggested that a police approach might be more appropriate for dealing with the threat of terrorism.25 Political theorist Michael Walzer refers to such appeals to a “police” approach as an alternative to military action as the “‘dial 911’ response to 9/11”.26
Such appeals are curious given that little serious attention has been paid within the churches and the discipline of theological ethics to the ethics of policing, especially with regard to the use of lethal force. As Christian ethicist Edward LeRoy Long, Jr. has noted, “One can go through the indices of book after book in the field and find no entries for either law enforcement or police work. In comparison with the immense amount of thinking about the problem of war and the moral issues surrounding military service, this lacuna is telling.”27 Therefore, before drawing parallels between R2P and policing in order to generate further consensus among Christians and churches in the WCC, careful consideration must first be given to the ethics of policing. In what follows, I will argue that similarities do indeed exist between R2P and “just policing”; however, I will also show that this model of policing retains the possibility for the legitimate use of force – in accordance with strict rules governing such use of force that are analogous to those found in just war reasoning. It may therefore be unlikely to persuade all those within the WCC fellowship who have negative views about R2P to change their opinion. Nevertheless, while pacifists may not be able to participate in actions resembling policing, especially when lethal force may be involved, there may be ways in which they can support efforts by others to make just war more like policing.