US Others Take Heat for Opposing UN Genocide Agreement

By Abid Aslam

WASHINGTON–DC–International charity Oxfam is seeking to turn up the heat on governmen’s it says are blocking efforts to prevent genocide and protect civilians from atrocities such as those seen during the 1994 bloodbath in Rwanda.

The organization is accusing prominent United Nations member states the United States–Brazil–India–and Russia of blocking–or at least giving the cold shoulder to–an emerging international agreement establishing an international duty to head off genocide and protect civilians from ethnic cleansing as seen in the Balkans.

Other governmen’s opposed to the proposed measures–to be discussed at a UN summit in New York next month–include Syria–Iran–Cuba–Pakistan–Egypt–and Algeria–according to Oxfam.

"It is hard to overstate how important this is," said Nicola Reindorp–head of Oxfam’s New York office. "In one month’s time–the biggest meeting of world leaders in history could endorse a new standard which could help stop a future Rwanda from happening."

"We’ve taken the step of exposing the governmen’s blocking the agreement so people around the world can call on them to change their minds," Reindorp added.

According to the draft agreement–world leaders would "agree that the protection of populations from genocide–war crimes–ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" lies primarily with national governmen’s.

But "the international community–through the United Nations–also has the obligation to use diplomatic–humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations."

If peaceful means and national authorities fail to resolve the situation–then members of the international community would "recognize our shared responsibility to take collective action" through the UN Security Council–the draft agreement reads.

Diplomats and others opposed to the new standard have said it could serve as pretext for powerful countries to interfere with weaker nations–impose impracticable obligations–and exceed the Security Council’s mandate of ensuring international security.

Some opponents have sought not to block the agreement but to temper its language and to clearly spell out its implications for member states.

Oxfam said it disagreed with any effort to–in its view–dilute the agreement–adding that countries supporting strong language included Rwanda–South Africa–Tanzania–Nigeria–Kenya–Chile–Peru–Argentina–Australia–New Zealand–Japan–South Korea–Singapore–Canada–and the European Union (EU).

"The international community must never again allow genocide or mass murder to go unchecked," said Oxfam’s Reindorp. "This is a moral issue of huge importance and will establish a new standard that could help save millions of lives."

The issue has divided governmen’s that share the goals of enlarging the UN Security Council and of securing berths on the apex decision-making body.

Among aspiring Security Council members–Brazil and India stand among governmen’s unhappy with the current draft agreement while South Africa and Nigeria support the measure.

Oxfam’s efforts to shame opponents into changing their positions caps more than a decade of dissatisfaction over the international community’s handling of mass killings–round-ups–and evictions in the Balkans–Rwanda–Sudan–and elsewhere.

Advocacy groups have spent more than the past two years trying to goad the UN and the United States into intervening to protect civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region. The administration of President George W. Bush has said killings and other atrocities there amount to genocide but it has confined itself to providing air transport for African peacekeepers. The UN–taking its cue from member states–has balked at applying the term "genocide" to Darfur–thus sparing members the burden of a tough response.

Supporters say the draft UN agreement would seek to avoid that sort of political limbo by establishing a clear international responsibility to step in.

But opponents note that international responsibilities already are enshrined in international law–where they are honored mostly in the breach.

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