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Responsibility to Protect at 10 conference hosts discussions on the ethics of international politics

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at 10 Conference, organized by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, was held this week on Sunday and Monday, March 8-9. The conference featured panels with experts in international affairs, professors from Brandeis and Tel Aviv universities and other guest speakers. Each event focused on a different aspect of ethics and the responsibilities of nations in international politics.

The conference, titled “When is it Right to Step In?,” began with a welcome by Daniel Terris from the Ethics Center at Brandeis and Mordechai Tamarkin of Tel Aviv University. Sunday’s events included talks about ethical considerations within R2P and “R2P in the Real World.” Each event lasted about an hour and a half and gave audience members the opportunity to ask questions or make comments about what they had heard. The conference was organized by a committee including members of both Brandeis University and Tel Aviv University and in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as well as other institutions.

The “Justice and Accountability Roundtable,” moderated by Director of Programs in International Justice and Society Leigh Swigart, was one of the events held at the conference. It featured former U.N. Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs Hans Corell, Vice President Mordechai Kremnitzer of the Israel Democracy Institute, John Shattuck of Central European University and Richard Goldstone of the University of Virginia Law School. Kremnitzer and Goldstone sat on the panel in the place of Felice Gaer and Phillip Rapoza, who were unable to attend.

Corell was first to give his views on the role of justice and accountability in the context of R2P. He explained that bringing criminals to justice is essential to protecting the world’s vulnerable populations and preventing atrocities. “When criminals see that nothing is happening when they are committing crimes, then the criminality will just grow,” Corell argued. He also made clear that he feels governments “should be very careful to defend the integrity of the U.N. charter.”

Goldstone, who spoke after Corell, criticized the U.N. Security Council’s decision to not intervene in certain situations. “The members of the Security Council have irretrievably weakened [their] own body, the Security Council. They have almost gone out of their way to weaken it by exercising their veto in situations when it shouldn’t be and, importantly, as far as the International Criminal Court is concerned, not backing up their own referrals,” Goldstone commented.

Goldstone also discussed the importance of connecting justice with peace, something he feels will be essential in preventing future crimes against humanity.

Panelist John Shattuck took a different approach to this idea, saying, “Justice as an instrument of ending conflict is a more problematic concept, and it’s had a problematic history.” Shattuck was the only American panelist.

When Kremnitzer was given his opportunity to speak, he focused on the failures of the Security Council that Goldstone had previously discussed. “In the cases where the Security Council fails to act as it should act, there is a real contradiction between what justice requires, [or] demands very strongly, and what international law permits or allows. And I think to say in these kinds of cases, that when you intervene in the name of justice you are acting illegally, is a very problematic notion,” Kremnitzer argued.

Kremnitzer said that he is not optimistic that bringing criminals to justice will be an adequate consolation for victims of crimes against humanity, reminding the audience that many of these victims are not alive to see reconciliation anyway. In response to this, Goldstone argued that many South African victims of crimes against humanity did in fact find criminal justice to be a meaningful form of reparation, acknowledging that this wasn’t the case for all the victims.

The discussion the panelists had at the R2P conference served as an example of the complexities of R2P and the inevitable challenges that trying to protect the vulnerable populations of the world presents. Though there were disagreements on the practicalities, the consensus was that nations that are able to protect vulnerable people are responsible for doing so.

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