Saturday, January 31, 2009

US Envoy to UN Signals Support for ‘R2P’

The Irrawaddy News

UNITED NATIONS — US Ambassador Susan Rice signaled on Thursday during her first appearance before the UN Security Council that President Barack Obama'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, without elaborating, during a closed-door session.

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, answers questions from reporters at the United Nations in New York. (Photo: AFP)

"But this commitment is only as effective as the willingness of all nations, large and small, to take concrete action. The United States takes this responsibility seriously," she said, according to a transcript of her remarks made available to reporters later.

During the past year the UN has debated whether it has a "responsibility to protect" civilians in such cases.

Last May, for example, the council discussed a proposal by France to authorize the UN to enter Burma and deliver aid without waiting for approval from the nation's ruling military junta. Several countries, citing issues of sovereignty, blocked the idea.

France had argued that the UN has the responsibility—and power—because of language adopted at a UN summit in 2005 saying the world body sometimes has a "responsibility to protect" people from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing when nations fail to do it. A Security Council resolution adopted in 2006 reaffirmed that agreement.

Rice also emphasized, in keeping with the subject of Thursday's council meeting, that the U. 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 US opposed the court's creation and for the past decade refused to join it. The court is not part of the United Nations, but the 107 nations that ratified the 1998 treaty creating it, along with the UN, are responsible for responding to its requests for cooperation.

As former president George W. Bush's administration wound down, the United States became a strident supporter of bringing Sudan's president before the court on charges of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region.

Rice, who began work at the UN on Monday, defended Israel while pressuring it to account for its military actions. Much of Thursday's council discussions revolved around Israel's three-week offensive and January 18 cease-fire in Gaza, diplomats said.

"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, and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicizing these important issues," she said.

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