Word of the day: Nonindifference

The challenge of humanitarian intervention in conflicts, as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan originally framed it, saw a bitter divide split Western from developing countries.

When the Canadian-sponsored independent international commission held a regional meeting in New Delhi in June 2001, only the protocol officer from the External Affairs Ministry attended the reception hosted by the Swiss ambassador. India’s opposition was that strong.

That is Ramesh Thakur on the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, now cutely reduced to R2P–what is probably the only UN acronym I like. Thakur is a University of Waterloo prof (my alma mater!). He argues that R2P, at first regarded by many developing countries with suspicion, has seen a broadening of support.

Ghana’s delegate noted that R2P attempted to strike a balance between noninterference and what the African Union called nonindifference.

Imagine: nonindifference as an aspirational goal!

His story shows the power of modest resolutions to become enduring international norms. No sooner than R2P was named, nations, opposition parties, and activists began to invoke it for interests initially self-serving and, increasingly, in the service of the oppressed.

This is the strength and the danger of the rights-based movement in humanitarian aid. Rights as empowerment or as idolatry? I still don’t know I feel about that power.