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The new approach to the Responsibility to Protect

Nature, and human safety and dignity are now almost officially in need of financial advocates to convince countries to act in their favour.
Nazih Sanjakdar
31 October 2011

Once you have crossed the idealistic post-adolescence phase of higher values and perfect ideologies, you start to embrace pragmatism with a considerable sense of intelligent and enlightened cynicism. You read the world differently, and you come to accept the rules according to which humans have so far survived since the beginning of time. However, no matter how attached you are to your newfound common-sense, cross a certain line and some things are still able to shock you, and to resuscitate your resentment vis-à-vis the de facto norms of life as it really is.  

In the context of a three-day conference organized by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, a certain group of experts and academics tried to explain how they plan to convince and mobilize governments of developed countries, such as Canada and the US, to assume their Responsibility to Protect defenceless populations against gross human rights violations, by demonstrating to these governments that their own ‘national interests’ are at stake.  According to a well-crafted presentation delivered by one of the founders of this concept, the key message of their initiative - the Will to Intervene [1] - is to, ‘incorporate the prevention of mass atrocities into [the country’s] definition of its national interests’ - it’s about security and national interests, first, and doing the right thing, second. 

Centuries of evolution and intellectual enlightenment, three holy books, Nelson Mandela, and two World Wars to learn from…  and still the world is in need of a price tag in order to get up on its feet to prevent innocent victims from being slaughtered pointlessly. This is a world where the United Nations, a global institution whose membership comprises almost all the states in the world, and founded on the principle of the equal worth of every human being,[2] can decide in one week on the right of the citizens of London, Paris or Montréal to recycle the plastic caps of their distilled water bottles, while it stands powerless for decades vis-à-vis the right of other nations to enjoy much simpler and far more vital rights. 

Turning values into financiers. Another recent step in this direction is the newborn concept of Green economy that is already on the agenda of the Earth Summit 2012, also known as Rio +20. In a nutshell, one of the purposes of this concept is to replace, or at least to overshadow the notion of Sustainable Development after it has proven costly for developed countries and emerging economies alike, especially in the aftermath of the world’s 2008 - 2009 Financial Crisis.

Green Economy is based on the economic utility of the environment, so that it will be viewed as a contractor providing services, or, given a more positive spin, as a source of economic hazard that needs to be contained.

In one of his first reports containing an in-depth analysis of Green Economy, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon explains that, the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity study computed the (unpaid) environmental costs of the economic activities undertaken by the world’s major firms and compared them with the profits of those firms at an aggregate level. The results suggest that a significant proportion of the world’s biggest firms would be rendered unprofitable were they required to pay those environmental costs (...)[3]

Also, in its newest report on Green Economy, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP argues that, The key aim for a transition to a green economy is to eliminate the trade-offs between economic growth and investment and gains in environmental quality and social inclusiveness. The main hypothesis (…) is that the environmental and social goals of a green economy can also generate increases in income, growth, and enhanced well-being. » According to the report «The development path [by Green Economy standards] should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and as a source of public benefits (…)[4] 

Nature, and human safety and dignity are now almost officially in need of financial advocates to convince countries to act in their favour. It is both absurd and unacceptable that the environment has a price to pay now, and a service to provide to the firms, for those to save it from the wrath of their own activities. It is also disappointing to know that doing the right thing is not enough to save human lives anymore, and that the only way to convince the democratically elected governments of New Zealand and Luxembourg to act to prevent mass atrocities is to tell them about the epidemics that could reach their own towns and villages, and about the illegal immigrants that would infiltrate their own frontiers and their own economies if a genocide is to be committed somewhere in Africa or Latin America.  


[1] See, Mobilizing the will to Intervene - Leadership to Prevent Mass atrocities. F. Chalk, R. Dallaire, K. Matthews, C. Barqueiro and S. Doyle. McGill-Queen’s University Press - 2010.

[2] Former UN SG Kofi Annan - Nobel Lecture, Oslo, December 10, 2001

[3] Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Progress to date and remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits in the area of sustainable development, as well as an analysis of the themes of the Conference. Report of the SG - 1 April 2010. Para. 50

[4] Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. UNEP, 2011. Page 15.

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