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SOVEREIGNTY AS RESPONSIBILITY السيادة مسئولية، وليست امتيازاً

May 23, 2011

Sovereignty as responsibility: conflict management in Africa by Francis Mading Deng et al.[i][ii]

Preview at Google Books:

THIS IMPORTANT BOOK, which COPTIC NATIONALISM encourages its followers to read, was published for the first time in 1996, two years after the Rwanda Genocide in 1994, has been very useful in the eventual development of the new international law principle, now norm, of the Responsibility to Protect. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon, in his Report: Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, acknowledged the work of Francis Deng and his colleagues when he talked about the mandate and the context of his Report:

“Two distinct approaches emerged during the final years of the twentieth century. Humanitarian intervention posed a false choice between two extremes: either standing by in the face of mounting civilian deaths or deploying coercive military force to protect the vulnerable and threatened populations. Member States have been understandably reluctant to choose between those unpalatable alternatives. Meanwhile, Francis Deng, at that time the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, and his colleagues had been refining a conceptionally distinct approach centred on the notion of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’. They understood that sovereignty entailed enduring obligations towards one’s people, as well as certain international privileges. The State, by fulfilling fundamental obligations and respecting core human rights, would have far less reason to be concerned about unwelcome intervention from abroad.”[iii]

Francis M. Deng is an expert on conflict management and U.S.-Africa relations, Francis Deng served as Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons and is currently Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities. It must be a cause of pride to all dwellers of the Nile Valley that Deng is originally Southern Sudanese, and belongs to the large tribe of Dinka.

Francis Deng is to be commended for his new approach of looking at State sovereignty not as a privilege but as a responsibility: responsibility of the State in protecting the human rights of its population, and responsibility towards the international community in ensuring that it does protect the human rights of its population. If a State fails in its responsibility to protect its own population, it cannot use its sovereign privilege to deny international intervention to protect that population. This new approach was later used by the independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) to produce its invaluable document, The Responsibility to Protect, in 2001, which discussed this matter in more detail, and was, in its turn, later used, in 2005, by the African Union and the United Nations to adopt the Responsibility to Protect principle. This new principle and norm in international law is predicted to be a most important tool in the 21st Century in ensuring that States do not see their sovereignty as a defence that allows them to practise mass atrocities against their populations with impunity, but rather understand that they are responsible in international law of protecting the human rights of their populations.

We will come to all matters related to this international principle and norm, the Responsibility to Protect, in more detail in the future. Our aim at the present is to underscore to our readers:

Our aim at the present is to underscore to our readers:

  • that the Responsibility to Protect principle and norm differs from “humanitarian intervention” which has always meant military intervention;
  • that it stresses that the responsibility of protecting populations lies first with the States, and that only when States are failing in their responsibility will the international community step in, first by assisting the failing State in building its capacity, if it is unable to undertake its responsibility adequately; and only in the last resort through reactive, direct intervention;
  • that the Responsibility to Protect applies only to specific crimes and violations: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity;
  • that the principle is now deeply rooted in international law;
  • that both the United Nations and the African Union have subscribed to it;
  • that Egypt has agreed to it, and to its provisions, in 2005 at both the UN World Summit and the African Union founding conference;
  • that direct, reactive intervention is not an unavoidable part of it;
  • that any military intervention is undertaken as a last resort, and not by any foreign State or States on their own volition, but by the United Nations or regional organisations, such as the African Union and the Arab League, and only on authorisation by the UN Security Council;
  • that it is a tool that should be readily available to any population, which are exposed to mass atrocities, either because the State is unable or unwilling to protect them, or is actually taking part in the atrocities against them;
  • that those who are exposed to such atrocities, and who call for this tool to be activated when indicated, should not be tarred as traitors by the State, or any group within it, but should rather be considered as citizens in distress triggering a SOS call after massive internal failure by the State to protect them;
  • that instead of asking a population under attack, such as our Coptic minority, not to trigger the Responsibility to Protect norm , the Egyptian State should make sure that it seriously undertakes its national and international responsibility in protecting the Copts against persecution, oppression and repression;
  • that if the Egyptian State would like to avoid any international intervention, on the basis of the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, it ought to take the simple and easy step – to do the job expected from it by the Copts, by the Moderate Muslims and by the international community: that job is respect and protection of the human rights of all its citizens and inhabitants.

Suffice it in this first stage of our “The Responsibility to Protect the Copts” discussion to give a short introduction to the new understanding of sovereignty as a responsibility and not a privilege – a new development which changed the international law significantly in our 21st Century. Below you will find the publisher’s preview of Francis Deng’s important book, and two reviews which you can find in the internet:

The publisher, Brookings Institution Press, preview:[iv]

The authors assert that sovereignty can no longer be seen as a protection against interference, but as a charge of responsibility where the state is accountable to both domestic and external constituencies. In internal conflicts in Africa, sovereign states have often failed to take responsibility for their own citizens’ welfare and for the humanitarian consequences of conflict, leaving the victims with no assistance. This book shows how that responsibility can be exercised by states over their own population and by other states in assistance to their fellow sovereigns. Sovereignty as Responsibility presents a framework that should guide both national governments and the international community in discharging their respective responsibilities. Broad principles are developed by examining identity as a potential source of conflict, governance as a matter of managing conflict, and economics as a policy field for deterring conflict. Considering conflict management, political stability, economic development, and social welfare as functions of governance, the authors develop strategies, guidelines, and roles for its responsible exercise. Some African governments, such as South Africa in the 1990s and Ghana since 1980, have demonstrated impressive gains against these standards, while others, such as Rwanda, Somalia, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sudan, have failed. Opportunities for making sovereignty more responsible and improving the management of conflicts are examined at the regional and international levels. The lessons from the mixed successes of regional conflict management actions, such as the West African intervention in Liberia, the East African mediation in Sudan, and international efforts to urge talks to end the conflict in Angola, indicate friends and neighbors outside the state in conflict have important roles to play in increasing sovereign responsibility. Approaching conflict management from the perspective of the responsibilities of sovereignty provides a framework for evaluating government accountability. It proposes standards that guide performance and sharpen tools of conflict prevention rather than simply making post-hoc judgments on success or failure. The authors demonstrate that sovereignty as responsibility is both a national obligation and a global imperative.

B Gail M. Gerhart (May/June 1997 in Foreign Affairs)[v] review:

In the new world order, should the community of nations continue to adhere to the old principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states so long as their domestic policies do not constitute a “threat to international peace”? Not if the world recognizes, as these authors argue it should, that sovereignty carries responsibility to fulfil a social contract in which the legitimacy of rulers derives from their efforts to promote the welfare and dignity of all their citizens. Predatory or incompetent states that fail to discharge this duty must accept the right of other countries or international bodies to intervene to resolve conflicts and rescue victim populations from disaster. To help nudge international opinion closer to an acceptance of sovereignty as conditional, this study, drawing examples from Africa, lucidly sets out a framework of concepts and arguments to show how states can prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts that threaten their legitimacy, as well as how international and regional organizations can work to promote norms of responsibility within and among states.

Jeffrey Mervosh (25 March 2008) review:[vi]

This was a fantastic read, and prescient in its focus. Sovereignty as Responsibility is an international norm that has been cultivated since the end of the Cold War, and this book carried the concept from an abstract desire for the future into the realm of serious academic and policy discussion. A huge influence on the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) and subsequent Responsibility to Protect (R2P) protocol, Deng’s book laid the groundwork for establishing responsibility to protect one’s own population as a key component of sovereignty. States that prey upon segments of their own population or simply fail to take steps to provide basic human security abdicate their right to non-interference in internal affairs, and open up the opportunity for the international community to fulfil its obligation to provide protection for the world’s most desperate populations.

This book is a must read to understand the changing customary norms of international law that encourage states to live up to commitments to protect their own population, and hold them accountable for failing to do so.

[i] Sovereignty as responsibility: conflict management in Africa by Francis Mading Deng et al,[i] Brookings Institution Press; Washington, D.C.; 1996.

[ii] Donald Rothchild, I. William Zartman, Sadikiel Kimaro and Terrence Lyons. For a short biography of these, see:

[iii] Implementing the responsibility to Protect; Report of the secretary-General; 12 January 2009; p. 6.





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