Preventing mass atrocities: What can we expect from the UN?
Date: 07 March 2013
Location: 2.18, 65-68 Park Place
In 1945 the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, but also “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person”. Two world wars had “brought untold sorrow to mankind”, while human rights and human dignity had been trampled underfoot. But which was cause and which was effect? Clearly war had greatly amplified the scale of assaults on human rights and dignity, but had not such assaults, even if on a smaller scale, also been the harbingers of war? Were not both the product of the same anti-human ideology, which encouraged one group of human beings to seek its salvation and its glorious destiny through the conquest and even destruction of millions of others? Yes, but that ideology had also invoked, however spuriously, the rights of oppressed minorities as the pretext for resorting to war.
However elegantly linked in theory, these twin aims of the UN – to prevent war and to defend human rights – have constantly found themselves in tension with each other. Despite the adoption by the General Assembly, on consecutive days in 1948, of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN for its first 45 years clearly gave priority to preserving the territorial integrity of its Member States. But the end of the Cold War, by removing the irreconcilable ideological difference between the great powers, allowed this priority to be called into question and, on occasion, to be set aside.
This talk will examine efforts made over the past quarter-century to use the UN to prevent or halt mass atrocities, and will trace the parallel efforts to elaborate a doctrine that could govern its actions under that heading – from Kouchner’s devoir d’ingérence to the Responsibility to Protect. The author observed these efforts until 1998 as the main foreign affairs commentator of the Financial Times, and from 1998 to 2006 played a small part in them as chief speechwriter and director of communications to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is now chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and a member of the international advisory board of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He will discuss the various ways in which this doctrine has been explained, developed and interpreted, and will seek to assess both its limitations and its potential value.
This event has been organised by our International Affairs Research Group (IARG). It is an interdisciplinary forum for everyone interested in global and international issues. It is an intellectual meeting place for scholars, practitioners and community groups and offers the opportunity to transcend disciplinary boundaries. We host a lecture series on International Relations & International Law. Recent speakers have included Denis Temnikov (First Secretary, Russian Embassy, London), Professor Malcolm Evans (Bristol University), Lord Hannay (Former UK Ambassador to the UN), Sir Emyr Jones Parry (Former UK Ambassador to the UN), Professor William Schabas (University of Ireland), Bayo Ojo (Senior Advocate of Nigeria, member of the UN ILC), Professor Bertram Ramcharan (Former Acting UN Commissioner for Human Rights), and Mark Tokola (Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs and Head of Section for the Political Section at the United States Embassy, London)
Edward Mortimer is a citizen of the United Kingdom, born in 1943. He has an M.A. degree from Oxford University, where he studied History at Balliol College, and won a Prize Fellowship at All Souls College in 1965. From 1967 to 1985 he worked for The Times of London, first as a correspondent in France, then as foreign specialist and leader-writer, focusing on southern Europe and the Middle East. From 1987 to 1998 he was the main foreign affairs commentator of the Financial Times; between 1998 and 2006 chief speechwriter and director of communications to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and in 2007-11 Chief Programme Officer of the Salzburg Global Seminar in Salzburg, Austria. His writings include: "Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam" (1982), "The World that FDR Built" (1989), and "People, Nation, State: The Meaning of Ethnicity and Nationalism" (co-edited with R. Fine 1999). In 2010-11 he served as rapporteur for the Council of Europe’s Group of Eminent Persons on “Living Together in 21st-Century Europe”, and in 2012 he wrote an independent assessment of the BBC’s coverage of the “Arab Spring”, for the BBC Trust’s annual impartiality review. In November 2012 he delivered the Leonard Stein Lectures at Balliol College, Oxford, on “The Arab Spring and the World”. He is chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, and serves on the advisory boards of Independent Diplomat and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. In 2010 Mr Mortimer was made CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) for services to international communications and journalism.
To reserve a place please contact Jenny Hulin: