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Special Session of the UN Security Council on the Responsibility to Protect

The 2005 World Summit adopted a resolution containing a general outline of the new concept of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P). R2P is an emerging international principle, which is aimed at providing legal grounds for international action in crisis situations, which are within the domestic affairs of a state. The principle is aimed at protecting those who suffer when a state fails to protect and support its citizens, because it is unable or unwilling to do so. The argument is that state sovereignty entails a R2P towards citizens of a state that shifts from the state to the international community if the state cannot fulfil its duties in cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is a very controversial subject as there is a great difference in the understanding of this principle and the concern that the principles of non-use of force (Art. 2 (4) UN Charter) and non-intervention in domestic affairs (Art. 2 (7) UN Charter) are essentially over-thrown by this approach. Therefore, the subject for the Special Session of the Security Council was very well-chosen.

On the conference day, each delegation consisted of one student and one Iraqi diplomat who together represented the delegation of a country in Security Council. These Iraqi diplomats were taking part in a foreign diplomats training held by the German Federal Foreign Office.

There where two preparatory meetings at the Foreign Office in order to get familiar with the rules of procedure and get introduced to the topic of ‘Responsibility to Protect’.

In the first meeting, Ms Peggy Wittke gave us an introduction to the concept of the Responsibility to Protect, highlighting its usage, but also it roots and possible development. Then, we were acquainted with our colleagues, the Iraqi diplomats, and were told which country we were to represent.

In the following weeks, a lot research had to be done and each delegation had to prepare a position paper for its country, which was then handed to the other delegations so that these could get an impression of what would expect them at this conference.

During the second preparatory meeting, Ms Wittke made us familiar with the rules of procedure governing the sessions of the Security Council. Afterwards, we held a Security Council discussion on a resolution sponsored by the ‘Republic of Lagerfeld’ which aimed at improving all fashion affairs underlining the importance fashion has for the international community – and supposing that a change of outfit for the countries’ dele-gations might be a great improvement – if every country were to wear clothes in the colour of their countries’ flags. The discussion was very emotional, full of passion and it was obvious that this highly controversial subject shook the roots of many countries’ beliefs.

On 26 November, it was finally time for the ‘Special Session of the Security Council on the Responsibility to Protect’, which took place at the Senatssaal of Freie Universität Berlin.

After the presence of all fifteen delegations was checked by our chair Peggy Wittke, each delegation had the opportunity to give a two-minutes opening speech, in which they stated their country’s position.

After we were given the provisional agenda, the actual discussions began. By proposing to include certain issues, the delegations highlighted their countries’ priorities towards the issue. Discussing the agenda lasted almost one hour, which showed that there were many different proposals as to how to approach the topic and controversial views about how solutions can be found. We then agreed on splitting the agenda into six parts, of which the only two parts we got to discuss were: 1. Definition of the Responsibility to Protect and 2. Prevention and reaction measures.

While discussing the first agenda topic, the definition of the R2P, it became clear that although there were strong supporters of the concept such as France, South Africa and the United Kingdom, there was also a strong opposition bloc headed by Russia and China.

During long and detailed informal consultations, we learned how challenging the work of the Security Council actually is, since it nearly took us two hours to decide on two draft resolutions concerning a definition.

The first one was introduced by China, the US, South Africa, Italy and France. It essen-tially confirmed the R2P as it was laid down in the World Summit Outcome Document. Nevertheless, it failed due to the lacking support of Russia and the UK as Permanent Members using their veto right though for very different reasons. Russia was blocking the resolution, because it did not support the R2P concept in general and the UK was hoping to pass its own draft resolution that went further than the Chinese draft. Together with France, Belgium, Costa Rica and Croatia, the United Kingdom introduced a draft resolution. This resolution emphasised the main ideas of R2P, namely: prevention of possible internal conflicts, reaction to those conflicts with sanctions or, in extreme cases, even military interventions and assistance in rebuilding processes. Moreover, the UK draft also highlighted the importance of peacekeeping operations as a tool of actually achieving the protection of endangered citizens.

Although having the support of ten countries in total, thus passing the required threshold of nine, the resolution failed due to the vetoes of three of the five Permanent Members (P5), the US, Russia and China.

Before the second agenda item was discussed, we had a short lunch break, in which a lot of delegations continued to hold informal caucuses. They were really helpful, not only in order to discussing ideas with delegations that could possibly support these, but also to approach other delegations, who did not share the same views, and therefore trying find consensus among all the delegations as far as possible.

When finally formal discussions started again, the prevention and reaction measures of the R2P concept were at the centre of attention.

Viet Nam, the US, Panama and South Africa introduced a resolution stating clearly that military force as an option had to be the last resort and that regional operations had to be preferred. Though they managed to gather an enormous amount of support, the resolution eventually failed due to the Russian veto, which led to China not openly disagreeing with the resolution but rather abstaining. Thus with Russia and Croatia opposing the resolu-tion, China abstaining, the other 12 concurring votes could still not bring the resolution into force.

Though this outcome was rather disappointing for all of us, it must be said that it is rather realistic that the actual Security Council would have been unable to reach consensus on this matter as well due to the Council’s controversial legal status and practical implica-tions.

Nonetheless, the session was an enriching experience due to which we had the chance to improve our negotiating and speaking skills and test our abilities concerning the rules of procedure. Moreover, we got acquainted with real diplomats who were not only able and willing to give us an insight on their point of view on the session’s topic but also on other interesting events in international politics (especially in Iraq) during the delegation dinner after the session hosted by the Foreign Office.

All of this was very helpful for the conference in New York, so we are most thankful to the Foreign Office and Freie Universität for giving us this very unique and exciting opportunity.

Marlene Micha, Tadhg Stumpf and Christina Tahamtan