Thursday, May 8, 2008

Myanmar and the death of Responsibility to Protect (update 2)

So today, once again, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert came into the Council determined to win a briefing on the humanitarian situation by OCHA director John Holmes. China once again observed that a hurricane hitting a country isn't a Council issue. Reports of China being isolated on this issue were greatly exaggerated. Fellow Council members Russia, South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Panama were also opposed, among others.

So as a compromise, Holmes will have a briefing tomorrow afternoon in the Trusteeship Council chamber next door, and any state that wants to show up can, and no one can say the Security Council weighed in.

And as I argued yesterday, with all due respect to Bernard Kouchner's head-scratching idea of delivering food aid at gunpoint, this is probably for the best. Certainly Holmes himself thinks so. Asked today if the Council should weigh in, he said, "I still do not believe that a path of confrontation with the government is likely to result in more help to the people on the ground, which as I say is the absolute priority here." Even the UK Ambassador John Sawers distanced himself from the idea, pointing out that the concept of the international community's "responsibility to protect" applies only to cases of genocide or crimes against humanity. In other words, not cyclones.

Meanwhile, according to Holmes, the government continues to prevaricate. It has allowed several World Food Programme planes with high-energy biscuits into the country, and it's generally allowing the UN's several-hundred-strong staff who were already on the ground to do as they need to. It's slowly granting visas to Asian nationals, though not to Europeans as of yet. But massive amounts of aid are just offshore in Western warships, the kind that were so necessary to the tsunami relief down the coast in Banda Aceh in 2004, and the government won't let them in because it's paranoid of Western warships. Given Kouchner's latest rhetoric, they probably should be.

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