Sovereignty versus Common Responsibility

An interesting debate that has arisen out of the recent crisis in Egypt has been the issue of national sovereignty versus common responsibility. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the NDP elite in Egypt claimed that they resented foreign interference in the affairs of a sovereign state, Egypt. Having heard the same argument being used by other African leaders who refuse to relinquish power whilst brutalising their citizens, such as: Robert Mugabe, Laurent Gbagbo, Sani Abacha etc, I began to wonder whether national sovereignty should always take precedence over our common responsibility to each other as human beings. I was reminded of Bosnia in the 1990s and the brutality of the likes of Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbs against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. What would have happened if the international community had decided to respect Serbia and Bosnia’s sovereignty and left them alone to brutalise, murder and annihilate innocent Bosnian Muslim and Croat citizens? Surely there is some level of responsibility on the international community to intervene when you have a regime or political leadership that is brutalising innocent civilians, which transcends national sovereignty? It would appear to me that once a government has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of its people, then the international community has some responsibility to intervene to see that justice is done and the will of the people is upheld, even if it goes beyond the realms of upholding the principle of national sovereignty. It was this respect for sovereignty which allowed the international community to stand by and watch whilst over eight hundred thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus were being murdered in Rwanda. It is the same “respect” for sovereignty which has allowed Africa and the world to stand by whilst dictators such as Robert Mugabe and company have run amok, murdering innocent civilians and ruling with impunity. There has to be a point where our common responsibility to each other as human beings overrides the principle of sovereignty. In my view the principle of legitimacy before the people, should be more important than the principle of sovereignty. If a government has lost its legitimacy before its own people and yet refuses to heed the voice of the people, there must be some kind of mechanism which will allow the international community to step in and see to it that the will of the people is upheld even at the expense of national sovereignty, at least on a temporary basis. Otherwise we are guilty of aiding and abetting tyrants, sycophants, autocrats and dictators in brutalising their citizens through our passivity. I am aware that this is all open to abuse, like all things human, but the alternative is to sit around and do nothing whilst tyranny rules, and that for me is unacceptable.
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Mugabe Ratshikuni

introverted, shy, nothing to write home about

2 thoughts on “Sovereignty versus Common Responsibility

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  • February 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm
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    I agree, pretty strongly, actually. When I look at nations like Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, I often feel like the relevant dictatorial leader is playing according to one set of rules, while the rest of the world is playing according to another set of rules. For one team, violence is legitimate, but for the other it is not. It’s very hard to see how this can work out.
    On the other hand, we have to seriously think about who gets to make the call of when intervention is necessary and who should be supported. We’ve seen how often outside nations of got involved in the affairs of another in order to advance their own cause rather than the cause of the people they are “supporting”. In fact, haven’t some of these current leaders been supported for years (decades) by the international community? It seems to me that no one nation (or small group of nations) should have the power to make such a call. It would truly need to be an international body.
    It has been heartening to see the power of the people to topple their own government when that government does not hear them. May their strength defeat the strength of the guns (and anti-aircraft missiles) fired at them.

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