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Is there a 'responsibility to protect'? Is the UN capable of protecting the victims of internal conflicts?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The UN: An international organization whose first purpose is to promote global peace
  3. The arguments in favour of humanitarian intervention
    1. Humanitarian intervention
    2. The legal basis for humanitarian intervention and the charter of the UN
  4. The responsibility to protect
  5. The lack of a proper treaty today
  6. The notion of sovereignty in Iraq and Rwanda
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

Civil wars are, today, since the end of the Cold War, the dominant form of conflicts all around the world. For instance, as Stephen John Stedman explains, 'all thirty-five of the wars in 1997 were primarily internal' . Massive violence, destruction and killing tend, so, nowadays, to happen within states borders and no more in an inter-state context. Moreover, empirical studies show us, that among the total casualty figures of internal wars since 1945, the so-called 'wars of the third kind', 'approximately 90% of the casualties were civilians' . As an international organization whose first purpose is to promote global peace and the respect of human rights, the UN can be expected to intervene in order to protect the victims of these civil wars and to establish peace. But this idea is often undermined by the concept of state sovereignty. There is, so, an important dilemma of how to react to such situations as ethnic cleansing, gross violence and explicit violation of human rights within a nation-state, raising the question of the responsibility of the UN in contrast with the sovereign character of states, their exclusive right to exercise supreme political authority . Is there an existing 'responsibility to protect'? Is the UN capable of protecting the victims of these internal conflicts?

[...] The responsibility to protect is so a reality, but the UN has, in recent years, encountered various difficulties when trying to protect the victims of third kind wars. First, since the beginning, the organization has to deal carefully with the question of sovereignty of its member states. For instance, in 1948, when the draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was presented to the General Assembly, a Soviet delegate declared that number of articles completely ignore[d] the sovereign rights of democratic governments( . [...]

[...] Most agree that today this principle should be questioned in order to allow humanitarian interventions, and this because of the moral reasons I have expressed before, but the problem is that there is a 'lack of consensus in the international community over how to achieve a proper balance between sovereignty and human rights' . There is no proper treaty today which sets out explicitly the conditions under which humanitarian intervention should be permissible and it is very unlikely that the international community could really reach an agreement on such a contentious matter. [...]

[...] But today, considering events in South Africa on the question of apartheid and domestic human rights violations throughout the world, the right to intervene is a right and norm that is complementary to state sovereignty' . A 'responsible' sovereignty has so a double-side effect. First, states have a responsibility towards their inhabitants; they have to guarantee a safe and secure environment where human rights and dignity are respected or, if they do not, be prepared and accept an external intervention. [...]

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