Comment | For justice and civilians, don’t rule out regime change | The Globe and Mail
By LOUISE ARBOUR
Civilian casualties in Syria shock our consciences, but there is also a frustrating acknowledgment that military intervention there might do more harm than good. The best option to protect Syrians is peace; ending the conflict should also end the massacres. But is the reverse true? Would an initiative aimed solely at protecting civilians resolve the conflict? Not necessarily.
Responsibility to protect – the emerging principle that states can intervene in other states to prevent mass atrocities, invoked in the case of Libya – suffers from the same uncomfortable relationship with peace that justice does. In both cases, the desired objective – protecting civilians or bringing criminals to justice – falls short of, or is often even at odds with, the objective of peace. Humanitarian or judicial objectives address only the manner in which the conflict unfolds, not its ultimate resolution.
In Libya, this dilemma was resolved by merging the three objectives. First, justice: The United Nations Security Council referred the matter to the International Criminal Court. Second, civilians: It authorized “all necessary measures” to protect them. Third, presumably hoping to achieve the first two objectives, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization undertook to bring an end to the conflict by effecting (or supporting, depending on your perspective) regime change.
But the manner in which this happened, with NATO widely thought to have overinterpreted its mandate, exposes weaknesses in the current approach. Under both international criminal justice and R2P, the interventionist role of the international community is predicated on the fact that the state in crisis, which has the primary responsibility for protecting its people and dispensing justice, is “unwilling or unable” to do so.
Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters