Nearly 60 years ago, when the United Nations was formed in 1945, a few key action phrases from the Preamble of its Charter clearly stated the intent of those gathered there with a new vision of peace in their hearts:

We the Peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, …and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, …have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

The very word save denotes the ability to protect or preserve, and although this may have been the original intent, and this organization of sovereign states has accomplished astoundingly beneficial changes, the sad truth is, that in all of the intervening years, no constant and effective mechanism has ever yet been established for the purpose of actually saving any succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

After Rwanda, a swift and deadly genocide of thousands of helpless people, the United Nations was called into question. Where were the rescuers when rescue was needed? The question, itself, became its own mandate. The world now expects the UN to come to the rescue and take responsibility to save those who are in danger. This is almost a pivotal point in UN history! Previous to this horrendous slaughter 10 years ago, all “Peacekeeping” forces had been dispatched only by the UN Security Council, episodically, into situations of varying degrees of intensity and complexity, always subject to very inequitable political influences, with no long-range plan, no accomplishment goals and no real exit strategy. Any successes were remarkable. No constant, and inflexible definition of danger to a helpless population had yet been established as the criteria for action.

New principles have now been set forth in a report entitled The Responsibility to Protect issued by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, with the support of the Government of Canada. Kofi Annan, himself, in observing the sad anniversary of Rwanda, and then of the Holocaust, declared that human beings must never again suffer such atrocities. He affirmed that we, the International Community have a Responsibility to Protect.

The Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty made many recommendations; one is for permanent Regional Directors, who will be issued the authority to take immediate action. There should be a stand-by, quickly available intervention force, both military and humanitarian, assigned to the region. Instead of trying to solicit funding from various entities before any response can be made, there must be funds readily available for executing rehearsed contingency plans to protect civilians who are threatened, focusing on preventing further bloodshed. Another recommendation is for the Regional Director to be the single centralized authority for coordinating the efforts and activities of humanitarian organizations; there can be great counter-productive confusion over which agency is in charge. As additional funding becomes available it should be funneled into the Regional Director’s agency for the purpose of prioritizing and consolidating efforts so that the funds will be allocated most effectively. Some disasters are well publicized and civilian response may be tremendous; the response to the disastrous tsunami, for instance; while on the other hand, some humanitarian disasters are less known and receive less response; some can even be totally ignored, or worse, denied, which is another matter. How can the International Community respond to a disastrous situation that is denied by local governing bodies when witness testimony indicates otherwise!

But it has now been firmly established that the International Community has a “responsibility to protect” the world’s populations from genocide and other humanitarian crises even when states are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens. The responsibility to protect means that no state can hide behind the concept of sovereignty while it conducts – or permits – widespread harm to its population. Determining how this new mandate will be played out as it begins to be implemented makes for a defining milestone in human history. This means that the safety of human beings is, for the first time ever, a consideration to weigh in the balance against super-sanct sovereignty of nations. Another milestone is, of course, the founding of the International Criminal Court; a body that is dedicated to ending the impunity of individual perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity and genocide. The concepts of protection, justice and punishment for wrongdoing seem so elementary, ideally taught as basic family values and reflective of life in the local community. The taking of such responsibility in the International Community is centuries overdue; how amazing to witness this mark of human progress.

Now at last the humanitarian disaster in the Darfur region of Sudan is getting attention. The U.N. Security Council in September authorized, under resolution 1564, the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed there. The Security Council was urged by Human Rights Watch to refer the commission’s findings to the International Criminal Court to help ensure justice for the serious crimes committed in Darfur.

As a result of this sequence of events a whole new dynamic is emerging. The United States supports action against the Sudanese government for allowing/supporting the atrocities against its people in the Darfur region. This is commendable. However, the US has placed itself in a very awkward position. How can it agree to use an institution that it fears? The present administration does not approve of the International Criminal Court, even moving to UN-sign the document that President Clinton had signed. They fear correctly that US personnel may be vulnerable to charges/ Not as a result of political manipulation as they anticipate, but of indisputable fact.

The US is suggesting instead that an ad hoc court be created for the sole purpose of trying Sudan. If this attempt prevails, it will certainly avoid the embarrassing issue. This old power play may create some interesting new alliances among the other Security Council States. Time will tell. The other point of contention/uncertainty is the definition of genocide. Has willful (meaning intent) targeting of a specific people for the purpose of causing their extinction occurred? What is the criteria for determining intent? Perhaps this is a matter for the Court itself to decide upon completing an investigation. What is the trigger condition that activates a UN response?

Meanwhile, human progress is taking place before our very eyes. I personally, am feeling very aware of this dichotomous situation. I have been bemoaning the extraordinary powers assumed by the US Executive Branch of government. I believe that deranged individuals have taken control of the US Presidency, and that they have an overwhelming influence upon the other branches of government. What has happened to this precious nation that we believed to be a democracy? Or, if not yet a democracy, then at least a republic, but a country in which the people had a voice in its major decisions. Not so, any more. So, on one hand, I distrust executive power, knowing in my heart that every decision taken by this administration is the wrong one…emanating from a very flawed philosophy. To see enemies all around us, is paranoia. To respond to difficult situations that demand diplomacy with deadly force instead, believing that shock and awe can make anything better instead of worse, is the most asinine faulty reasoning one can ever imagine. As a staunch Humanist I’m firmly convinced that this kind of fanaticism is from basic character flaws…gullibility and resultant illogical reasoning. If the good hearted well-meaning sensible American People with their touted power of Freedom do not gain control of their touted Democracy, we will, in the eyes of the rest of the world, be as guilty as they are. The paradox that I am seeing in the matter of executive power is that the United Nations has been handicapped by the lack of it! The structure of the institution needed reassessment and revision from the beginning. The one certain reason that wars and aggression have been allowed to prevail has been all of the power posturing among nations, with no executive branch to counter balance and to say “Stop!” In the person of Kofi Annan as its Secretary General, I will trust executive power of the United Nations because I believe in the principles to which it is dedicated. I trust his judgment as being in the best interest of the many, especially the vulnerable, rather than the few who flout military power and promote hypocrisy in the guise of democracy.

Civil society, the NGOs, and the various institutions of law and ethics and conscience must speak out in support of the United Nations at this pivotal time, and in behalf of the Responsibility to Protect if we are to become a more civilized human species. There is a call to the international community to take early and effective action to protect the world’s citizens. The Responsibility to Protect-Engaging Civil Society project (R2P-CS) is building a network of NGOs that seek widespread acceptance of these principles. Visit the Web site for information on how to take action.

Of the other issues that concerned citizens of the World are addressing, one of the most urgent is to raise people’s consciousness about the UN Millennium Goals, those of eradicating hunger, poverty, unemployment, lack of education and health care, discrimination against women, and lack of basic rights of the child to adequate protection and nurturing.

Another matter for consciousness raising is the unconcern by industrial nations, chiefly you-know-who, with the conditions that are destroying our environment and causing the unnatural devastation of global warming.

Overriding and influencing all of these concerns are the issues of weapons, (regardless of the hype on the danger of WMDs…all armaments are capable of the mass destruction of human beings); the fact that many corporations are more wealthy and powerful than most nations, and are infamous for generating exploitive labor conditions; and the inequities in the International Banking systems that promote hopeless debtor conditions among those nations most needful of help and least able to pay high interest rates.

We know of several responses to some of these prevailing problems that concerned citizens are working on. Corporate power can be curtailed by the states in which they are incorporated, by state-mandated inclusion of phrases in the corporate papers that make adherence to international standards regarding human rights, labor practices, concern for the environment, concern for common community values, etc. required.

Another effort that concerned citizens can pursue is advocating a new head of the World Bank. The term of the current president is about to expire. A person with experience in a developing nation, intimately familiar with its problems might be a good choice. Worth exploring anyway. Suggestions?

President Lula DaSilva of Brazil has the perfect two-pronged solution to one of the greatest plagues on Earth. His plan could be the best way of raising capital for humanitarian projects ever devised: TAX ARMAMENTS! If the manufacture, sale, transfer, purchase, even trade of all kinds of weapons were taxed, and the power to inspect and enforce such an international law were voted upon by the UN General Assembly and such law came into force, we citizens of earth will have achieved the ultimate victory. The cats at their convention dealing with problem of the danger posed by the cat, cheered at the suggestion of putting a warning bell on the cat. But then, it occurred to them that someone (who?) would have to do it! Dear fellow peace lovers: I can’t think of a better way to begin to control the menace of weapons. Can you? May peace prevail.