23 May 2008

UQ's Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P Centre) has been closely monitoring international debates surrounding the Burmese and international response to the crisis in the Irrawaddy Delta.

This follows Cyclone Nargis nearly three weeks ago, which killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Professor Alex Bellamy said that central to the response by concerned governments and commentators had been the request to invoke what the UN recently came to define as the "Responsibility to Protect".

On May 7 the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the UN Security Council invoke the Responsibility to Protect. This position had been supported by Australian Opposition leader Brendan Nelson and shadow Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, among others.

"But this view is not shared by all," said Professor Bellamy, who is Director of the APR2P Centre at UQ and Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies.

"While moral outrage is an appropriate response to the tragically ineffective manner in which the authorities in Myanmar/Burma have addressed the humanitarian crisis in the wake of Cyclone Nagris, co-opting the Responsibility to Protect to justify coercive aid disbursements is not," he said.

A major new Briefing Report released by the Centre on May 16 asserted that the Responsibility to Protect does not apply at this stage to the devastation in Burma/Myanmar, because the principle does not mean protecting people from all imaginable threats.

"At the 2005 World Summit, when United Nations member states agreed that there is a Responsibility to Protect, they limited its scope to cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," he said.

"In international law, crimes against humanity are defined as widespread or systematic attacks directed against civilians."

Professor Bellamy said the Centre's position was that: "although the Burmese government's response has been deplorable, there is no indication at present that it has committed such violations."

The Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect is a bold new initiative. Launched in February in Bangkok, the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect aims to become a focal point for bringing together politicians, NGOs, government agencies, and academics to develop peace keeping and early intervention initiatives with an Asian focus.

In keeping with the Centre's aims the Briefing Report was circulated to key stakeholders throughout the region including politicians, governments, NGOs and academics. The Report detailed four possible courses of action, including the option of ASEAN coordinating multilateral efforts and that concerned governments should support ASEAN's disaster relief teams.

Professor Ramesh Thakur, a well known author and commentator, who has written extensively in the international media on the situation in Burma, will provide more insight into the Burmese and international responses to Cyclone Nagris in Brisbane next month.

He will present a lecture entitled: "The Responsibility to Protect: From Idea to Norm and Action?" on Monday June 2, at 6pm, at The Red Chamber, Old Parliament House, Brisbane. Professor Thakur is also a Patron of the Asia- Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

For more information contact Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: a.bellamy@uq.edu.au or tel: + 61 73365 3301 or 0402 669959.