Mass Atrocities in Ethiopia and Myanmar: The Case for ‘Harm Mitigation’ in R2P Implementation

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
Patrick Wight Lecturer, International Development Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Senior Editor, Ethiopia Insight,

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Yuriko Cowper-Smith Research and Engagement Officer, The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, Toronto, Ontario, Canada,

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By combining insights from the three dominant perspectives in International Relations – liberalism, realism, and anti-imperialism – a novel approach is put forward, that of ‘harm mitigation’. A comparative analysis of Ethiopia and Myanmar reveals that the international community still does not possess the mechanisms to halt mass atrocities in real time. When enforcing R2P, none of the available non-coercive and coercive policy options are pragmatically or ethically unassailable. The non-coercive tools that can be labelled as ‘ethical’, such as diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and documenting atrocities, while important, are largely ineffective at stopping atrocities as they happen. Much like UN peacekeeping, these non-coercive actions are limited by targeted governments invoking the principle of state sovereignty. Meanwhile, actions that are potentially expedient, such as economic sanctions, military intervention, and supporting rebel groups, are ethically thorny. The conclusions speak to the reality that both non-intervention and intervention have the potential to cause human suffering.

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