A Catalan debate over Responsibility to Protect
The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (DIPLOCAT) organized on Friday in Barcelona a conference on the Responsibility to Protect. This UN-backed principle claims that all countries have the responsibility to protect their citizens from human rights violations. The Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, William Pace, argued that “the EU has in its DNA the responsibility to protect” and added that the attitude of the Catalan society is “also fundamental” in order to fight against “impunity for serious crimes”. The Secretary General of the DIPLOCAT, Albert Royo, said that “it is especially important” for Catalonia to “be able to explain which role it wants to play” in the international arena, now that is considering becoming an independent country.
Barcelona (ACN).- Engaging Catalan society in big international debates is one of the main objectives of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (DIPLOCAT), that organized on Friday in Barcelona a conference on the Responsibility to Protect. This principle, recognized by the United Nations in 2005, claims that all countries have the responsibility to protect their citizens from human rights violations. The Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, William Pace, argued that “the EU has in its DNA the responsibility to protect” and added that the attitude of the Catalan society is “also fundamental” in order to fight against “impunity for serious crimes”.
The Secretary General of the DIPLOCAT, Albert Royo, said that “it is especially important” for Catalonia to “be able to explain which role it wants to play” in the international arena, especially now that is considering becoming an independent country. Royo argued that Catalonia should become “a responsible and committed” actor to promote a “more democratic, more peaceful, more free and more sustainable world”. According to him, it is only by doing this that Catalonia will be able to exercise “real influence” in defending its “own local interests or objectives”.
The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia does not only aim at explaining Catalonia to the world but also at “creating trust bonds with the public opinion and civil society of countries around us”, said Royo. Precisely, in order to “engage Catalan civil society in the big European and global challenges”, Royo is trying to “bring to Catalonia some of the main debates in the international arena”. The conference on the Responsibility to Protect organized on Friday in Barcelona is an example of this, and Royo plans to host similar events “with global or European interest” every three months. The next one is going to be in January and will be co-organised between the DIPLOCAT and the Open Society Foundations of George Soros. Four months before the European election, international experts will debate on the way the media discusses xenophobia and euroscepticism.
Pace welcomed the fact that the “responsibility to protect is in the DNA of the European Union“. “It is hard to imagine EU countries waging war against each other”, committing “war crimes, against humanity or genocides” or allowing these crimes to be committed in another European country, he said. “This is an extraordinary achievement in the last 70 years by the EU but it doesn’t mean that ethnic minorities, racism or immigration issues are not still extremely difficult”, he explained before adding: “But compared to even 30 years ago, when military dictatorships were able to repress millions of their own citizens, the change has been remarkable”.
Pace is a leading international actor in defending human rights and trying to engage civil society in this task. Member and founder of many NGOs, he had a key role in the establishment of the Responsibility to Protect initiative in the United Nations. For the first time, this norm forces states not only to have the “right to govern” their territory but also “the primarily responsibility to protect citizens” from severe crimes. If one state is unable to protect its own citizens or attacks them, this principle authorizes the international community to intervene in order to avoid genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. In fact, this international intervention could, with authorization from the Security Council, allow a “military operation”.
Pace explained that the norm was rapidly ratified by sixty states but there is still a long way ahead for it to be fully and effectively implemented. Situations such as the one in Syria, for example, highlight its limitations. The Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy said that the European Union was founded to guarantee peace in Europe and prevent new wars, and therefore could be considered as the “major peace project” in Human history. Pace added that this principle is now understood not only in Europe but around the world, with African leaders now “understanding the need” to promote peace and economical integration. He also mentioned improvements in South America when “50 years ago all countries where living under dictatorship”, he said.
Not enough to “prevent conflicts”
Despite all improvements, Pace mentioned that the different opinions within the Security Council of the United Nations usually make it harder or impossible to send peace missions to countries where clear violations of human rights are committed, such is the case in Syria. This expert also regretted the inability of the EU to “prevent conflicts”, as Europe usually reacts when the humanitarian disaster is already under way.
Journalist Lluís Foix chaired the round-table about how the EU implements in its Foreign Relations the principle of responsibility to protect. Catalan Socialist MEP Maria Badia and the Director for Conflict Prevention and Security Policy of the European External Action Service, Jöelle Jenny participated in the debate. Badia reminded participants that the crimes committed in Rwanda forced the international community to rethink the principle of non-interference. Using Martin Luther King words, the Catalan MEP said that the violation of human rights in one part of the world is a violation to all human rights around the world.
Badia said that the Responsibility to Protect norm still has a long way ahead to be fully implemented, but praised the progress made by the EU in its foreign affair role. The MEP rejected the idea that the European Union is not able to prevent conflicts saying that “commercial relations and development aid” should also be considered as tools to avoid conflicts. Jöelle Jenny also praised the successful task of the European Union in preventing conflicts, mentioning the recent agreement with Iran or the re-establishment of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. “The EU plays a key role in preventing conflicts”, she said.
Jenny explained that the European External Action Service is working towards being able to intervene “much earlier” in humanitarian crisis and not having to “wait until the situation explodes”. Jenny argued that development aid policies and having people in-field helped to detect potential problems that could lead to human rights abuses. Nonetheless, this member of the EEAS said that “every country is different” and that solutions that might help in one place are not useful in another. She depicted as crucial the collaboration between the EU and NGOs and civil society in order to prevent conflicts, and admitted that economical sanctions are also a useful tool to “put pressure on governments”.
The event organized by the DIPLOCAT also had amongst its speakers the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Responsibility to Protect, Tina Park, the Director in Spain of Amnesty International, Esteban Beltrán, and the deputy Director of Genocide-Alert in Germany, Alena Beutler.