Pura Vida takes on the UN Security Council
I’m working on a longer analysis of the Western Hemisphere’s response to the Syrian situation, but the public statement made by the Ambassador of Costa Rica was so notable that I thought it deserved its own blog post.
After speaking out boldly against the on-going human rights violations being perpetrated by the al-Assad regime against the people of Syria, the Ambassador went on to question the Security Council itself:
The representative of Costa Rica expressed his delegation’s deepest concern about the gruesome human rights violations being carried out in Syria. The international community could not remain silent, he stressed, calling on the Syrian authorities to definitively end attacks against civilians and other human rights violations. Condemning reports of sexual violence, including that perpetrated against girls and boys, he said all international stakeholders should work towards a swift and peaceful solution to the crisis, in line with the Arab League’s Plan of Action. The Human Rights Council had been playing its role of promoting a peaceful solution and, with the appropriate tools already at its disposal, it should move to create the position of Special Rapporteur on the situation in Syria, he said, calling attention to that Council’s report on the very serious acts — pointing to possible crimes against humanity — being carried out in Syria.
Expressing concern that the Security Council had been unable to act on the matter, he said it had been prevented from acting by the use of a veto. The Council required deep reform, chiefly so that such measures could not be used to stymie action in the face of the worst international crimes, he emphasized. Stakeholders might disagree on certain matters, but the international community must speak resoundingly when human rights violations and acts of violence against civilians were committed. The international community should explore all avenues to reach a solution and ensure that those who had committed grave crimes were held responsible, including through referring the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court. Finally, he said the “voices of change cannot be silenced with violence”, and called for a solution that met the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
Costa Rica has been a key player in the development of the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Although in practice the concept of R2P can be somewhat complex, in theory, it’s based on three pillars:
1. State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility of its leaders is to protect the people from things like internal conflict, insurgency, repression, and state failure.
2. The international community has the responsibility to assist a state if it is unable to live up to its own responsibility to protect.
3. When in conflict, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international community’s responsibility to protect.
Beyond that, the concept of R2P is defined by three primary responsibilities: to prevent, to react, and to rebuild.
Understandably, the primary argument against R2P is that it is, almost by very definition, a challenge to national sovereignty.
Proponents of R2P, to include UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, assert that sovereignty is a privilege, not a right. If a nation’s leaders fail to uphold their own responsibility to protect, it is the responsibility of the world community to intervene, because the national leaders have proven themselves unable or unwilling to accomplish their primary responsibility as leaders.
Costa Rica has a special type of moral authority to speak on these issues. After being torn by civil war, the military was abolished in 1948. While the Land of Pura Vida maintains small forces for law enforcement and foreign peacekeeping missions, a 1949 constitutional amendment made it literally unconstitutional to establish permanent standing armed forces in Costa Rica. Money that would go toward training and equipping the military has been invested in education and social services.
It is important to consider that a state that has no military is by nature nonviolent. Simply put, it is hard to regard the country as aggressive, given its lack of traditional arsenal or weaponry and trained personnel.
But it’s also in the national interest of Costa Rica to support the Responsibility to Protect and other international cooperation initiatives. As President Laura Chinchilla noted in her September 2010 remarks before the UN General Assembly, Costa Rica is completely dependent on universal respect for International Law and multilateral organizations for its national security.
Given that the UN resolution on Syria did not call for use of force (neither arming the rebels nor attacking the al-Assad regime directly), but rather supported the Arab League’s plan for a peaceful transition, it makes sense that Costa Rica would support the resolution so boldly.
It’s also worth noting that Costa Rica is a member of the Small Five (S5) group, working together with Singapore, Jordan, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland to develop ideas for UN Security Council reform. Singapore was the only other Small Five country to explain its vote for the Syria resolution.
The most recent S5 draft proposal, released in June 2011, included a provision that would prevent “a negative vote” from having the power of veto over a Security Council resolution “in situations of serious allegations of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
In light of the passionate remarks provided by the Ambassador of Costa Rica, we can probably guess which of the S5 countries proposed this particular reform.
EDIT: The promised broader analysis of Latin American responses can be found here.