Lectio Magistralis del Ministro Terzi
“Responsibility to protect”
(John Cabot University, Rome, 15 May 2012)
Members of the Board of Trustees,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And – above all – you, the best and the brightest: the graduates of the class of 2012,
Thank you for awarding me this honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service. I feel deeply privileged to receive it from John Cabot University, a multilingual and international university that fosters intellectual tolerance, freedom and integrity. It is a pleasure to be here with you, following yesterday’s Commencement ceremony to celebrate the graduates of 2012. I congratulate you on this remarkable achievement. And I really appreciate that after a great night partying you have chosen – instead of a flight that could whisk you off to a holiday destination – to attend today’s ceremony. However, if coffee didn’t work, if fresh air is not working either, then I doubt that my speech will help you get rid of your hangover.
Yesterday, for the Commencement ceremony, you were at Villa Aurelia, a magnificent villa built by a great diplomat, Girolamo Farnese. Before becoming Cardinal, Girolamo Farnese was Papal Nuncio in Switzerland and supported many initiatives to keep the fury of the Thirty Years’ War from encroaching on Swiss territory. He developed an intense dialogue with the Austrian court, the Spanish diplomacy and the French crown. But when the duke of Parma asked him to enlist a Swiss regiment, he strongly refused to do so.
So, first of all, let me express a wish for all of the graduates who are stepping into a new phase of their lives. I wish that Girolamo Farnese’s gift for dialogue, but also his ability “to say no”, will inspire your future careers. Because you recognise leaders not only by their talent to select priorities but also by their resoluteness in refusing what is against their beliefs. And there are certain values where there should never be a compromise, where acquiescence is mostly a proof of weakness and fear.
Courage is a quality that anyone can develop. One of the greatest women of our times, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I had the honour to meet a couple of weeks ago, once said: “Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions”.
So, dig down deep in your soul, find what motivates you and pursue it with passion. Never forget that most of the time you can achieve higher results through dialogue and mediation. But stand firm for your values. In this interconnected world, you can download almost anything from the internet. But not your values. They must be your moral browser, because without them you are disconnected. And if you should find it harder to succeed, you should consider that it is much worthier to be a person of value than a person of success.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before addressing the main subject of my speech, let me pay tribute to Giovanni Caboto, a great Italian explorer and navigator whose name this university bears.
Democracy, freedoms and rights were born in Europe. But these fundamental values, later in history, found a formidable promoter in the New World. Alexis De Tocqueville observed that “if you were to take a look at Europe in 1650, you would be shocked: everywhere absolute monarchy ruled from the ruins of the oligarchic and feudal freedoms of the Middle Ages. In the heart of this brilliant, literary Europe, the concept of rights was completely unknown. It was at that very moment that principles unknown to European countries were proclaimed in the deserts of the New World and became the future symbol of a great people.”
America’s spirit of liberty and respect for human rights was reflected in our republican Constitution and – ever since – has shaped the Italian foreign policy. Italy has been shouldering greater international responsibility, by promoting and joining peace missions, and contributing to the advancement of international law. Not only have we pursued the fundamental values of our humanistic heritage, but – together with the United States and others – we have also been among the precursors of a new principle, the responsibility to protect.
Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia: the end of the last century offers many tragic examples about the world’s inability or unwillingness to face political and humanitarian crises. Close to our borders, in former Yugoslavia, the UN had deployed blue helmets with UNPROFOR. But the mission could not avoid the massacre of Srebrenica: that sheer brutality provoked outrage in international public opinion. A new approach was needed. As a result, 16 nations met at the London Conference in July 1995 to consider new options for bringing peace to Bosnia. The UN Secretary General requested NATO intervention. Italy joined the NATO operation, calling also for a political strategy. Largely as a result of that operation, the belligerents met in Dayton in November 1995 where they reached a peace agreement, which was signed in Paris a few weeks later. As a member of the Contact group and the UN Security Council, Italy played an important role in helping strike the peace deal.
The lesson was clear: when mass atrocities are perpetrated, the international community carries the responsibility to protect the population affected. As stated by former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, the crucial concern should be our common humanity – our obligation simply as human beings not to stand by watching our fellow human beings suffering unbearable, unutterable horrors.
A Commission, co-chaired by Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, was formed in response to the UN Secretary General’s question on when the international community should intervene for humanitarian purposes.The central theme of its Report was that sovereign States have a responsibility to protect their own people, but when they are unable or unwilling to do so that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of States. This was an evolution of the concept of “humanitarian intervention” towards the recognition of the responsibility of each State to prevent atrocities from being committed against its population, and the corresponding right of the international community to react when a State fails to comply with its duties.
The Report identified three kinds of responsibility:
1. The responsibility to address the causes of internal conflicts and other crisis. Prevention begins at home, through the promotion of human rights, rule of law, and democratic governance.
2. The responsibility to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures and, in extreme cases, military intervention.
3. The responsibility to provide full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation.
At the same time, protection of civilians had become one of the fundamental tasks of UN peace keeping operations. By taking part in these operations, Italy has contributed to international practice, which has shifted from a culture of sovereign impunity to one of responsible sovereignty.
This principle was then endorsed by the international community at the UN World Summit in 2005 in New York. It was agreed that each State has the primary, but not exclusive, responsibility to protect its own people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Indeed, in 2000, the African Union had already advocated a shift from a culture of non-intervention to a culture of non-indifference. The 2005 consensus in New York was important in ascertaining universal support for the principle of responsibility to protect. While agreement was reached on the principle, however, the ways to implement it still needed to be defined.
In 2009, the UN Secretary-General presented a report on “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” and invited the General Assembly to consider how Member States would take the commitment forward. Since then, the debates have underlined the need for an increase in preventive diplomacy and cooperation between the United Nations and regional organisations like the European Union, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Arab League.
The principle of responsibility to protect was then implemented on the occasion of the successful UN actions in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire. It was a confirmation that governments and regimes can no longer seek brutalise their people without the reaction of the international community. The recent guilty verdict issued by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone against the former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, also proved that all perpetrators of atrocities can and will be held accountable.
The responsibility to protect was also corroborated by the recent Libyan crisis. Indeed, the principle itself was explicitly cited in Security Council Resolution 1973. The world could not look away from civilians’ despair while bloodshed and mass violations of human rights were perpetrated by the brutal Libyan regime. The international community therefore assumed the responsibility for protecting the civilians whom Qaddafi and his sons had vowed to slaughter house by house. Under the legal and political legitimacy of Resolution 1973, Italy successfully supported, participated in and made possible the NATO operations.
This was yesterday. Today, we are at a pivotal moment in Syria. We have supported the levying of international sanctions against the Syrian regime, and the efforts made by the UN to increase the pressure on it. We welcomed the General Assembly and Security Council resolutions to put an end to the violence and find a peaceful solution to the crisis. We have relied on the capacity of UN Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043 to stop the systematic human rights violations, including through a UN Supervision Mission and the deployment of 300 unarmed military observers. We have supported the mission since its beginning, not least through our readiness to deploy Italian observers.
The Annan plan has given the Syrian regime the opportunity to demonstrate whether it is serious about its commitments. However, the odds of success seem slim. The death toll is rising. Unacceptable violations of the ceasefire and violence continue, as reported by Mr. Annan himself. Last week, a bomb explosion killed many people in Damascus. A stronger political impetus from the international community, and especially from the countries of the Arab League, is required to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance. The Syrian case, and the differences within the international community on the immediate reactions to the violations of human rights perpetrated by the regime, have underscored that the implementation of the responsibility to protect still needs some fine-tuning.
In November 2011, at the debate of the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Brazil presented a new concept. This concept underlines that the international community must demonstrate a high level of responsibility while protecting populations affected by humanitarian crises and mass human rights violations. It recalls important principles, such as proportionality, the importance of the promotion and strengthening of the rule of law and accountability mechanisms, the need for transparency and monitoring of UN action. This concept will be discussed at a specific session of the UN General Assembly in July. But the debate should hopefully lead to a more responsible world, and not to more ambiguity and loopholes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We belong to generations born just after the terrible suffering of World War II. This entitles me to encourage students, the young generations, to avoid the mistake made by my generation, which 20 years ago had believed in the false myth of “the end of history”. At that time, we were convinced that – with the collapse of communism and the peaceful reunification of Germany – our world could enter a long-lasting era of peace.
The Balkan crises reminded us that wars can still break out on our doorstep. They tragically demonstrated that every time we are not able to prevent serious violations of human rights and mass atrocities, then brutal regimes are ready to perpetrate – again and again – the horrors witnessed during World War II.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the responsibility to avoid new horrors lies not only with governments, but also with each and every one of us. By taking on your responsibilities, by refusing to let fear dictate your actions, you will help create a better and more secure world. And, above all, you will also keep a crucial promise. A promise that sums up our humanist heritage and the spirit of our times, in just three words: “No, never again”.Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you once again for this most prestigious honour.