2012 – The Year of Humanity?

| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( January 03, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) I have already written in this journal about what I believe 2012 might bring from a political context and an economic standpoint. A book I recently read written by Professor Rudi G. Teitel, Professor of Comparative Law at New York University entitled “Humanity’s Law” made me wonder as to whether, following the surge of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements of 2011, this year would not be the year of humanity.
Professor Teitel correctly observes in her book that the normative foundation of international customary law has shifted in recent times from a focus on the security of State to the security of the human. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 which brought about NATO strikes against the Libyan forces calculated to protect Libyan civilian protesters proved Teitel’s point. Focus on the security of the human is not new. During the Nuremberg trials following World War II which inquired into Nazi Germany’s atrocities during the Holocaust, Justice Jackson stated: “Humanity need not supplicate for a tribunal in which to proclaim its rights…humanity can assert itself by law. It has taken on the robe of authority”.
Hugo Grotius, the Dutch jurist who lived in the 17th Century, who is known as the father of international law said that the principle that the exclusiveness of domestic jurisdiction stops where outrage upon humanity begins is the first authoritative statement of humanitarian intervention. Three centuries later, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan observed that there can be no global justice unless the worst of crimes – crimes against humanity – are subject to the law.
At the heart of the problems caused by the commission of atrocities by States is the misguided interpretation given by some States regarding the notion of sovereignty. Again, it was Annan who said: “ State sovereignty, in its most basic sense is being redefined – not least by the forces of globalization and international cooperation. States are now widely understood to be instruments at the service of their peoples, and not vice versa.” Annan goes on to say that State sovereignty, which is a real and tangible right recognized by the United Nations Charter has been strengthened further by a renewed and spreading consciousness of individual rights.
If the international community is to enforce the law of humanity as a global set of rules, it has to step away from mere lip service and ensure that norms are tightened and legal measures are implemented. Whether it is Bosnia or Kosovo, or as in the current spate of atrocities committed by one tribe against a sector of people in South Sudan, endangered people should be assured of intervention and protection by the community of nations. It is a human right to expect such protection, as it is a human right to expect freedom from poverty, hunger and ill health brought about by manmade and natural disasters.
It has been a fervent belief of mine that a Nation should not be recognized only for its achievements but also for its compassion. This applies to the community of nations as well. When the eighth Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon commenced his tenure in early 2007, he brought with him his mission statement which is “promises should be made for the keeping”.
In this context, one has to admit that The United Nations has used quiet diplomacy to avert imminent conflicts. An example of this is the deployment of a total of 63 Peace-Keeping Forces and observer missions from its inception to date, by which the United Nations has been able to restore calm to allow the negotiating process to go forward while saving millions of people from becoming casualties of conflicts. There are presently 16 active Peace-Keeping Forces in operation. Also, the UN system has devoted more attention and resources to the promotion of the development of human skills and potentials than any other external assistance effort. The system’s annual disbursements, including loans and grants, amount to more than $10 billion. The UN Development Programme (UNDP), in close cooperation with over 170 Member States and other UN agencies, designs and implements projects for agriculture, industry, education, and the environment.
It supports more than 5,000 projects with a budget of $1.3 billion. It is the largest multilateral source of grant development assistance. The World Bank, at the forefront in mobilising support for developing countries worldwide, has alone loaned $333 billion for development projects since 1946. In addition, UNICEF spends more than $800 million a year, primarily on immunisation, healthcare, nutrition and basic education in 138 countries. Since adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations has helped enact dozens of comprehensive agreements on political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. By investigating individual complaints of human rights abuses, the UN Human Rights Commission has focused world attention on cases of torture, disappearance, and arbitrary detention and has generated international pressure to be brought on governments to improve their human rights records.
However, what the world needed in 2011 and would probably need in 2012 is quicker action to protect citizens against atrocities, whether committed by their own authorities or by segments of society. The fundamental basis for action should be the tenets of the United Nations Charter which says in simple terms that everyone has the right to live, the right to be free and the right to personal safety. No one can be someone else’s slave. No one is to be hurt or to be punished in cruel or humiliating ways. The law must be the same for everyone. The law must protect everyone. People have the right to be protected by the courts, so that their rights are respected. People cannot be arrested or sent away from their country, unless it is for a very serious reason. Everyone has the right to a fair trial. No one has the right to interfere in other peoples’ lives, in their families, in their homes or in their correspondence. People have the right of free movement within their country. People have the right to leave any country, even their own, and then return. No person or people shall have their nationality taken away from them This means everyone has the right to belong to a nation. And they also have the right to change their nationality, if they want to.
On this basis the international community must adopt a plan of action that could pre-empt and prevent violence, torture and atrocities against a society or segment thereof. Retrospective reconciliation or justice simply will not do in the current context. The Holocaust, mass killings in Ruanda and genocide in many parts of the world in the last century should be an impetus to this initiative. After all this is, as Grotius said, the first authoritative statement of humanitarian intervention.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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