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Stand with the people and protect them, urges UN rights expert — Global Issues

UN News: There have been a lot of calls by the people of Myanmar for the responsibility to protect, what is your opinion regarding these calls … is R2P a possibility that should be explored under the current circumstances? Or is it too drastic or unrealistic? 

Special Rapporteur: No, I think It is very reasonable. First of all, responsibility to protect is very clear that governments, nations themselves have the responsibility to protect their people.  

But then it goes on and recognizes that sometimes those nations cannot always act to protect their people. Then there are instances in which countries will not act to protect their people. And in this instance, here is a country that is actually attacking its people.  

So, according to the responsibility to protect, the international community, therefore, has a responsibility to do what it can to protect the lives of innocent people in countries that are unable or unwilling to do so, or are in fact attacking them.

The international community has a responsibility to do what it can to protect innocent people in countries that are unable or unwilling, or are in fact are attacking them

I think that is definitely appropriate, this is exactly the situation in which we do have a responsibility to protect. And Chapter VII [of the UN Charter, by which the Council can use force]; using this is one of the reasons that the Security Council exists, to engage in just this kind of emergency.

So, the question becomes, what to do, how to act, what is the best way to act? Some have the belief – it is an erroneous belief – that responsibility to protect or R2P means military engagement. It is not what it means. Military engagement is an option, but it is not what R2P is.

R2P means going in to protect, in the best way possible. We need to look at options within certain parameters. Options that have the most potent impact on the junta, but also, that will have the minimum negative impact on the people. Protect the people of Myanmar.

And I am afraid that any kind of military intervention would lead to a massive loss of life.

Already the military has been making up stories about what it is facing. From the very outset, it said that it is using utmost restraint – its language – to contend with violent protests, but we saw nothing of the kind. We saw increasing violence and increasing brutality by the military. And we saw very peaceful, unarmed protesters. 

And that is also the reason why information has been cut off, the reason the junta is doing everything possible to cut off the flow of information is because it was finding that its appeals to the world to not believe our own but believe its propaganda – was not working.

The junta, I think, are trained to deal with an enemy wielding weapons of war … but they are showing themselves unable to deal with an opposition wielding weapons of peace

The junta, I think, are trained to deal with an enemy wielding weapons of war. That is their training. They have a significant arsenal of weapons, and a very large military force. But they are showing themselves unable to deal with an opposition wielding weapons of peace.

With this incredible civil disobedience movement that we are seeing across the country, this powerful, creative, tenacious movement in which people are using a range of ingenious tactics, including civil disobedience, boycotts of businesses owned by the military.

That is extremely powerful and it has generated great admiration and respect for the people [of Myanmar] from the world.

So, it would be a mistake if, in fact, this became a full military confrontation. I think that the brutality unleashed would be even more horrific than what we are seeing now. It would be a significant increase in the loss of innocent lives, and that needs to be avoided.

I understand, listen, if my wife, my child, my brother or sister were killed, murdered by this regime, I too, would want revenge. That would be my instinct. I totally understand where people are coming from, but it would be, in my view, a mistake, a very grave mistake, and I am hopeful that it will not come to that. 

Unsplash/Anika Mikkelson

A monk walks toward a pagoda temple near Yangon, Myanmar.

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