Sovereignty as Responsibility: Protecting the Rights of Individuals Within States

Civil-Military Affairs Conference (CMAC), Asia-Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence

Speech. Check against delivery, E&OE

25 May 2011

At the outset, may I acknowledge General Mike Smith, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Centre of Excellence and my friend and colleague, HE Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is visiting Australia this week at my invitation.

I also acknowledge members of the Diplomatic Corps who are with us today, I see colleagues from various missions, the United States, Switzerland, the European Union, Afghanistan and others; representatives of the Australian Defence Force, General Hurley, and for those of you visiting Australia can I also extend a welcome of behalf of the Government.

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to Australia. And to discuss with you the full range of human rights and policy issues.

It is a great pleasure also to be back in Queanbeyan at the Asia Pacific Civil Military Centre of Excellence.

I would also like to acknowledge my friend and colleague, member for Eden Monaro, Dr Mike Kelly MP, because of his central role in agitating within the Australian Government, which I led at the time, to establish this Centre and fund it, and he has been a proud champion of it from the beginning.

Nearly three years ago, when I opened this Centre, I invited the governments of the world to work with us to build the Centre up.

To build a body of expertise, practice and procedure for civil and military operations.

So that it could then be shared as widely as possible.

So that this learning would be available for those who needed to respond quickly, effectively and seamlessly when the next big disaster — natural or man-made - hits.

I am delighted that the Centre has made a great start in fulfilling this mission.

In its brief history, this Centre has already brought together civil and military experts from Australia and abroad, the United Nations and regional organisations, and begun integrating their insights into a comprehensive and useful body of practical knowledge on conflict and disaster management.

So warm congratulations to Mike Smith and the members of his team because this, in the full scheme of things, is important work.

Over the last 10-15 years, there has been more intense global focus on states’ responsibilities towards their citizens in general and on the rights those citizens are entitled to expect.

This is a necessary focus.

Because atrocities and conflicts remain bleak realities in far too many parts of the world.

Sometimes, as has been the case in Libya, regimes threaten to unleash atrocities against their own civilians.

In other parts of the world, civil wars and other conflicts continue to rage and, tragically, civilians make up the majority of casualties.

The international community needs the concepts and the tools to protect the safety and the dignity of civilians in these situations.

And that is why it is so significant that two important doctrines — the Responsibility to Protect on the one hand, and the Protection of Civilians (in armed combat) - have begun to take root over the past decade or more.

They have begun to crystallise our understanding of the responsibilities of states; they have begun to find expression through the councils of the United Nations.

These doctrines are separate, but they are also linked in the common imperative to ensure the fundamental wellbeing of civilians.

The challenges we face are these:

  • how do we broaden and deepen the understanding of these concepts?
  • how do we ensure their legitimacy is universally recognised through the full remit of international law?
  • and then how do we operationalise them? So they make a tangible difference where it matters most for the hundreds of thousands of civilians — men, women and children — afflicted by atrocities, conflicts or disasters.

These are important challenges for this Centre, important challenges for this and future conferences, and important challenges for the Government of Australia.

When Australia contemplates its foreign policy missions, we conceptualise it in the following terms: like all countries our first and foremost foreign policy objective is the maintenance of our national security and the protection of our political sovereignty.

The second is the advancement of our national economic interests.

The third is advancing the cause of good international citizenship, building up the global and rules-based order — whether that is in the realm of international peace and security, whether it’s in the realm of climate change, whether it’s in the world of international economic cooperation, whether it’s in the world of international human rights or whether it is in the specific sphere of the protection of civilians.

Because the rules-based order — global and regional protects us all. And this concept of good international citizenship, advanced through what we call in this country, ‘creative middle power diplomacy’, enhancing the spread of this order, and its legitimacy and its operational effectiveness is a core component of Australian foreign policy.

Responsibility to Protect

Let me first consider the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P.

In this context, I acknowledge the ongoing contribution of my distinguished predecessor as Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, to the development of R2P, including as co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty which first enunciated the doctrine.

The actions this year of the Qaddafi regime in Libya have given new urgency to the application of R2P.

And the course of action taken by the Security Council in response to the events in Libya, in invoking the doctrine in resolutions 1970 and 1973, has given new authority to R2P.

Let us not forget that, whatever debate we have about Libya, the responsibility and determination to protect civilians the Security Council expressed, and the no-fly zone it mandated, averted the likely slaughter at the hands of the Qaddafi regime of civilians in Benghazi, a city of some 700 000 people.

This is a world which in recent memory has seen Rwanda, has seen Srebrenica.

R2P was the right concept to deploy in Libya. Put simply: it saved lives. It saved thousands of lives; it arguably saved tens of thousands of lives.

It is incumbent on all nations of good will to work to strengthen the authority of R2P. To make sure none of us backtrack.

Australia for its part will be working hard to encourage nations to embrace R2P.

One way to do this is to spread understanding of the scope of R2P’s application, and the situations in which it is deployed.

It is important to make clear that R2P is only deployed in the context of the occurrence or anticipation of four atrocities: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

And it is important to make clear, as Gareth Evans has, that, as was the case in Libya, R2P has three pillars.

Most immediately, R2P applies to the state in question: that state has the first responsibility to protect its own population from atrocity.

The second pillar is the commitment of the international community to help States protect their own populations through assistance and capacity building, drawing on the cooperation of member states, regional organizations, civil society, the private sector, and UN agencies.

Only on pillar three, and if the state in question is manifestly failing to protect its people, is the wider international community called upon to respond in a timely and decisive fashion by intervening diplomatically, coercively and — as a last resort - militarily.

So the scope of R2P is highly limited; this must be widely understood.

Australia and Australians have played a positive and important role in the development of R2P — beyond Gareth Evans I am pleased that the Global Centre for R2P in New York is to be headed by the distinguished Australian academic Professor Simon Adams.

Australia will pursue an active diplomatic strategy to strengthen the authority of R2P around the world and to help ensure we as an international community do not backtrack on the gains we have made, including in recent action on Libya.

Australia will work to broaden global and regional understanding of the lifesaving applications of R2P, and of the practical situations in which it might be deployed.

We will pursue outreach in the Asia Pacific, both directly with regional diplomatic partners, and through the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the University of Queensland, drawing on its extensive network of think tanks and civil society advocates.

To give effect to this diplomatic strategy, we will prosecute a number of specific initiatives.

First, I have appointed within my department a senior official, Ms Deborah Stokes, to serve as Australia’s national R2P Co-ordinator.

She will work closely with the global network of other R2P national Co-ordinators to promote and consolidate the R2P global framework.

Second Australia will offer to host the next meeting of national R2P contact points, building important international networks in support of this doctrine.

Third, Australia has also offered to assist in the co-chairing of the next ministerial meeting on R2P at the time of the UN General Assembly meetings in September 2011.

Fourth, we will provide active, financial support to a range of key bodies doing the vital work of developing and advocating R2P globally.

In this context, we will continue to support this important Asia Pacific Civil Military Centre of Excellence.

We also support the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P at the University of Queensland, providing nearly $4 million over four years from 2008-12.

In addition, in the coming financial year we will provide further financial support to:

  • the Global Coalition of Civil Society for R2P;
  • The Global Centre for R2P; and
  • The United Nations Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Promotion of the Responsibility to Protect.

Strengthening R2P’s authority and practical application will be a vital task, and one on which I trust we can count on the support of this centre and these delegates.

Let me turn now to the principle of the protection of civilians, and its applications to peace operations, the question on which your conference will focus.

As I said earlier, the bleak reality is that armed conflict is still prevalent across the globe.

But the nature of that conflict has morphed. As the recent World Bank 2011 World Development Report noted, more and more contemporary armed conflicts are “low-intensity”: often civil wars fought by small and lightly armed forces that avoid major military engagements.

But that has not improved the lot of civilians. They still make up the majority of casualties because the opposing forces often target civilians, brutally.

So the need for multilateral civil and military deployments remains enormous.

Indeed, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there were more than 50 ongoing multilateral peace operation deployments in place around the world at the end of 2010.

This means that common understandings and practices among governments, peacekeepers, peace builders and communities in host countries are more important than ever if we want to improve the effectiveness of peace operation deployments.

This matters to Australia, deeply.

Australia has contributed more than 65 000 personnel to more than 50 UN and other multilateral peace and security operations worldwide since 1947.

In fact Australia participated in the first UN Peacekeeping operation in the world, we are proud of that and we are proud of our record since then.

We have over 3 000 Australians on duty today, working where they are needed in places such as Sudan, Solomon Islands, East Timor, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

As Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister I have been acutely aware that every day these Australian personnel - military and civilian - face danger.

We were reminded of this yesterday, with the death of Sergeant Brett Wood and the injury of five others in action in Southern Afghanistan.

And yet we recognise and we honour the very significant and necessary contribution Australians like Sergeant Wood make to the situation to which they are deployed.

Australians do this day in, day out, not just on 29 May, International Peacekeepers’ Day.

This important day honours the 2900 UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the cause of peace, including 13 Australians.

On this day we also pay tribute to all the men and women who have served and are serving in UN peacekeeping operations. We thank them for their professionalism, dedication and courage.

Australia believes firmly in contributing to global efforts to solve global problems.

We believe in strengthening the global rules-based order that underwrites the peace and security of us all.

That is why we are the 12th largest contributor to the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets.

And it is why we are a candidate for election to the UN Security Council in 2013-14.

We know from more than six decades of experience, from over 50 peace and security missions in 27 conflicts, and more than 60 emergency relief operations, that when it comes to protecting civilians, what works is a comprehensive approach, embracing the aims of peace, security and development.

Australia’s experience has shown that a successful comprehensive approach to peace operations requires close attention in the following areas:

  • Coordination: the efforts of all the different actors — civilians of all kinds as well as uniformed police and military personnel — must be joined up and coordinated
  • Guidance: a clear expression of the mandate; a clear delineation of the respective roles of civilian, police and military personnel; and training of those personnel are all essential, so that protection of civilians can be operationalised in what are complex environments
  • National leadership: there must be national leadership and ownership to ensure that assistance fosters national priorities
  • Engagement with local communities: local communities and especially women - whom Mike Smith calls the single greatest asset of civil-military effectiveness - must be empowered to contribute to peace operation planning, decision-making and institution-building
  • Institutions: Substantial effort must be put into building effective post-conflict institutions; we need to support host governments in building their capacity to protect their civilians for the long term
  • And finally, and crucially, Human Rights — which must be a foundational consideration for any peace operation.
    So how is Australia working to put these insights into practice?

An obvious example of Australia’s participation in a security mission is Australia’s commitment to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, where Australia has around 1550 military personnel and 50 civilian personnel.

We train and mentor the Afghan National Army’s 4th brigade in Uruzgan province to assume responsibility for security; we help train and support the Afghan National Police; and we help improve the Afghan Government's capacity to deliver core services and income earning opportunities for its people.

The mission is truly joined up.

Our military effort in Uruzgan is the backbone of what we do: without the men and women of the Australian Defence Force the other things we seek to do there would not be possible.

But with that foundation it has been possible to roll out a program of support that helps improve the lives of Afghan people, and builds the reach and the legitimacy of the Afghan Government.

Extending essential services like education and health. Rolling out infrastructure such as roads, schools, and mosques.

The Afghan people ultimately need to rebuild Afghanistan. The engagement and support of our civilian team is helping this process.

Our civilian team has been able to engage closely with officials in Kabul, with provincial officials and community representatives in Uruzgan, as well as other military and development partners.

To identify, prioritise and deliver projects that boost the Afghan Government’s ability to meet the needs of its people.

Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan will endure beyond the end of the security transition process.

We will continue to provide civilian and development assistance, and non-combat military cooperation and training, for the next decade at least.

Australia also leads the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which continues to be an outstanding example of regional cooperation to restore stability and protect civilians in the Pacific.

RAMSI is a comprehensive response to the problems facing Solomon Islands after five years of ethnic conflict.

It comprises civilian, police and military personnel from fifteen Pacific countries, all working in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government to achieve a peaceful, well-governed and more prosperous Solomon Islands.

Around 350 Australians are deployed to RAMSI, including personnel from a broad range of Australian Government agencies.

Australia also contributes around 400 Australian Defence Force personnel to the International Stabilisation Force in East Timor, established at the request of the East Timorese Government to support East Timor’s security and stability following the unrest of 2006.

Australia was a key partner in the Bougainville Peace Process. Over 4,000 Australians served with the Bougainville Truce and Peace Monitoring Groups.

As part of these Groups, Australians worked side by side with civilians from other South Pacific Forum countries and United Nations observers to monitor compliance with the 1998 ceasefire and to build confidence in the peace process within local communities.

Australia’s responsiveness, the right military capability, and well-tested coordination with civilian actors was the right mix — with major internal conflict averted in all cases.

Another important example of Australia’s efforts to develop its ability to deliver integrated civilian and military operations that take proper account of civilians in receiving countries is the Australian Civilian Corps.

As Prime Minister, I announced the establishment of the Australian Civilian Corps in October 2009.

The Civilian Corps is designed to inject civilian specialists quickly into a post-conflict or disaster setting to stabilise and rebuild essential functions, including electricity, water, health, infrastructure and core government institutions.

The Civilian Corps complements the role of the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group in contributing to security and stability on the ground.

The Civilian Corps became fully operational this year.

Australia is also working to enhance the guidelines and procedures that peace operations personnel follow in their duties.

The Department of Defence and the Asia Pacific Civil Military Centre of Excellence are working on joint Protection of Civilians guidelines for the Australian Defence Forces.

And the Australian Government and the Asia Pacific Civil Military Centre of Excellence helped the African Union develop its Draft Guidelines for the Protection of Civilians by African Union Peace Support Missions.

This was the first initiative of a regional peace and security organization to create strategic and operational-level guidance on the protection of civilians for peace operations.

Australia is determined that the progress of the past decade in establishing the Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians as important global doctrines is recognised, advanced, and implemented.

Australia will pursue a diplomatic strategy to strengthen the authority of R2P and be alert to situations where it should be applied.

And Australia will continue to make the vital contribution it does to peace missions around the world, and work closely with others on concrete steps and actions to enhance protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations.

The challenge we face is how to make a tangible difference where it matters most for the hundreds of thousands of civilians afflicted by atrocities, conflicts and disasters.

But fine words alone will not help them.

We need to be able to move, as the theme of this Conference states, “from policy to practice”.

I will leave you to these excellent deliberations conducted through the coordination of this most excellent Centre.

But my challenge to you is this: do not underestimate what we through this Centre and what we through this Conference can do across our region; to make a material difference across the world.

Never underestimate what we in this country are capable of doing in partnership with our friends, our neighbours, our allies, around the world.

The principles of good international citizenship are ones we should be proud of and this concept of the Protection of Civilians and the Responsibility to Protect are vital elements of good international citizenship in the 21st century.

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