What does R2P mean to us in the UK?

Bex Dunn of the United Nations Association Wales explains how the emerging norm of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ effects us in the UK.

“The Responsibility to Protect is a concept whose time has come. For too many millions of victims, it should have come much earlier” – Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations.

Although it is rapidly becoming an international norm, Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is still a concept that is contested by many people. It is questioned at a domestic level by those who feel it is not our business to become involved in the affairs of other states and who feel we should prioritise our own citizens above everyone else. There are also questions relating to its effectiveness: when should we intervene? Once the human rights violation has already occurred, for example in Srebrenica? Is it more important to assess the impact to our country and not get involved if it is deemed too expensive for us, or is it more important to protect those whose human rights are being violated and who may be in danger from their own governments.

Undoubtedly there is an economic impact associated with a concept such as R2P, through the provision of troops, weapons, personnel and medical or humanitarian aid packages. We also put money, time and effort into sanctioning the offending states through arms embargos, patrolling no fly zones or preventing the importing and exporting of goods. The estimated cost of the operation in Libya is £212 million, which was carried out under the auspices of R2P. Although this seems a huge amount and is considered by some groups to be a waste, it is a fraction of what we spend each year in aid, which in turn constituted less than 0.56 per cent of our gross national income in 2011.

Every year we come across articles condemning our border control for admitting asylum seekers and refugees as they put too great a strain on our economy by ‘scrounging’ off our benefits system and ‘stealing’ jobs from British people. Yet do we not have a moral responsibility to provide these people with a place to live if it is unsafe for them in their own country?

Of course there are arguments to suggest that this invitation could be exploited by those seeking to take advantage of our benefits system. But it would be hugely insensitive to the situation of many of these people to claim that they are all like this. Recently on Facebook there have been messages surfacing claiming that the elderly receive less in benefits than asylum seekers and immigrants. This attitude is clearly representative of a nationalist mind-set which prioritises the citizens of the home state above citizens of other states. The source of this ignorance can be found on the BNP website comparing the weekly benefits of an elderly couple to that of a family of asylum seekers totally neglecting the fact that the family of asylum seekers is calculated based on four people and they gain just £28 more as a base benefit.

Although there is unquestionably an economic impact on Britain associated with R2P, it is difficult to argue that we should not engage in this policy when we consider it from a moral position. All humans are entitled to have their rights respected and as members of the same species, and as such we are obligated to assist those in need. Refusal to protect them lowers us to the same level as those rogue states responsible for their plight. In reality the economic impact is not even that great when we compare it to the vast levels of wastage in other areas of our economy so an opposition from an economic standpoint is resting on shaky foundations.

Bex Dunn

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