“Responsibility to Protect” as a Prelude to Undemocratic “Regime Change” and Foreign Imposition of “Transitional Justice”

In Orwell’s novel 1984 we encounter the instrumentalization of language to influence our thinking, the notion of “newspeak” as a hybrid tool to control the minds of a population.  Cognitive dissonance and the manipulation of emotions such as fear and hate play a role is comprehensive brainwashing.

Today we witness throughout the United Nations system the instrumentalization of values in the service of certain Western powers, the weaponization of human rights against geopolitical rivals and the penetration of institutions and non-governmental organizations by partisan interests and intelligence services.

At the same time we recognize that the authority and credibility of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union, the African Union, depend on their objectivity, coherence and predictability.  People will only trust an institution if they are persuaded that it pursues ethical values and employs ethical methods.

While the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is encouraged to offer advisory services and technical assistance to States that request it, the recent history of “colour revolutions” and “regime change” driven by foreign powers endanger international peace and security, within the meaning of article 39 of the UN Charter.  The attempt to consolidate undemocratic upheavals by ennobling them with the terminology of “transitional justice” deserves our attention.

What is “transitional justice” but another term for restructuring of a state according to a model that may or may not be democratically legitimized and may not correspond to the wishes and needs of a given population. Some consider “justice” to be equivalent with punishment, and all too often “transitional justice” is associated with lawfare against the losers. Yet, revenge and lex talionis do not advance stability or social justice and actually subvert the very concept of justice – transitional or otherwise.

Surely the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations remain valid and indispensable for the maintenance of peace, but we must be vigilant, lest fake news, fake history and fake law subvert the democratic process.  In particular, the information war conducted by governments, think tanks, and lobby groups endangers social peace and subverts international solidarity. The narrative managers in the mainstream media are complicit in this war.

Let us briefly look at the concept of “Democracy” and contrast it against new buzz notions such as “responsibility to protect” and “transitional justice”.

Paragraph 135 of General Assembly Resolution 60/1 of 24 October 2005 stipulates:

“We reaffirm that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. We also reaffirm that while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy, that it does not belong to any country or region, and reaffirm the necessity of due respect for sovereignty and the right of self-determination. We stress that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.” [1]

In other words, no State has a right to impose its socio-economic “model” on any other State.  Genuine democracy must be home-grown and reflect the beliefs, culture and heritage of a people. In this sense democracy means freedom and self-determination.

Paragraph 135 reaffirms several core principles of the UN Charter, notably the sovereign equality of States, the interdependence of all human rights, and the right of self-determination of all peoples.  Accordingly, it is clear that each nation has a right to choose its form of government without outside interference and that the overarching principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states is the best guarantee for world peace and cooperation.

It is enlightening to know that these principles are not all that knew, that already in the sixteenth century one of the fathers of international law, Francisco de Vitoria, formulated them as follows: “Toda nación tiene derecho a gobernarse a sí misma y puede aceptar el régimen político que quiera, aún cuando no sea el mejor. All nations have the right to govern themselves and can accept the political regime it wants, even if it is not the best.”

In this context, let us recall General Assembly Resolution 2131 (XX), which recognizes the right of all peoples to choose their model of governance and the prohibition of foreign interference.

“1. No State has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are condemned.

2. No State may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights or to secure from it advantages of any kind.”[2]

Similarly, General Assembly Resolution 2625, the “Friendly Relations Resolution” stipulates

“States shall conduct their international relations in the economic, social, cultural, technical and trade fields in accordance with the principles of sovereign equality and non-intervention.” [3]

Let us revisit General Assembly Resolution 60/1 of October 2005, paragraph 138 of which enunciates the notion of “responsibility to protect” — a rather cynical and thinly disguised effort by certain governments to circumvent the jus cogens prohibition of force stipulated in article 2(4) of the UN Charter.  Paragraph 138 reads in part

“Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it.”

What is this, but an invitation to powerful states to use economic coercion and military force without United Nations approval?[4]

This Orwellian terminology facilitated the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya in 2011, under an opaque mantle of legitimacy.  This cynical abuse of the concept of “responsibility to protect” led to the devastation of a sovereign country that had an admirable record of social justice, free education, free medical care, and fair distribution of the vast national wealth, now in the hands of transnational corporations.  The chaos brought upon the people of Libya by virtue of the misuse of Security Council Resolution 1973 is emblematic and constitutes a crime against humanity for purposes of article 7 of the Rome Statute of the ICC[5].  There was no “transitional justice”, but only slaughter.

In a similar vein we witness how the same mentality that engendered “responsibility to protect” attempts to justify unilateral coercive measures to destabilize governments and bring about undemocratic regime change.  In Latin America UCM’s undoubtedly contravene articles 19 and 20 of the OAS Charter which stipulate:

19. No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.

20. No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State. [6]

The General Assembly has repeatedly condemned UCMs in numerous resolutions including 53/141, 75/181, 76/161; the Human Rights Council in resolutions 27/21, 36/10, 45/5, and 46/5.  The record of those voting against these resolutions is disgraceful, among them Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Ukraine and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Do these countries understand the meaning of human rights?

It is to be hoped that this 51st session of the council should again condemn sanctions and financial blockades, establish a register of such illegal sanctions and a mechanism to suppress them.  More than that, the General Assembly should adopt a resolution under article 96 of the UN Charter elevating the legal questions surrounding UCMs to the International Court of Justice requesting an advisory opinion that would conclusively hold that UCMs lack legal basis and legitimacy, constitute a violation of numerous core principles of international law.  The ICJ should also define the level of reparations to be paid by countries imposing UCMs to the millions of victims worldwide.

Beyond that, the International Criminal Court should quantify the number of deaths attributable to UCMs and declare that such unilateral measures constitute crimes against humanity within the meaning of article 7 of the Statute of Rome.

Principle 19 of my 25 Principles on International Order, submitted to the HR Council in 2018 and published in my 2021 book “Building a Just World Order”[7] focuses on the civil and criminal responsibility of those states imposing UCMs. My principles are based inter alia on the UN Charter, numerous resolutions by the General Assembly and UN treaty bodies, as well as thematic Reports by High Commissioners, including Navi Pillay’s 2012 landmark report  A/HRC/19/33[8].

During the 51st session of the Human Rights Council Professor Alena Douhan[9], Special Rapporteur on the adverse impacts of unilateral coercive measures, presented a report which deserves our attention.  This report and the reports of the previous rapporteur, the late Dr. Idriss Jazairy[10], have not seen any follow-up by the Human Rights Council or even civil society.

Among the lessons to be learned is that we are in the midst of a dangerous geopolitical and epistemological confrontation that could end with Apocalypse for all of humanity.

Hence we must denounce the hijacking of the human rights system for purposes of geopolitics, demand respect of the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter and a return to the spirituality and universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


[1] http://un-documents.net/a60r1.htm

[2] https://legal.un.org/avl/ha/ga_2131-xx/ga_2131-xx.html

[3] http://un-documents.net/a25r2625.htm

[4] See my 2013 report to the General Assembly and 2018 report to the Human Rights Council for a discussion of responsibility to protect https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/ie-international-order/annual-thematic-reports. See also the discussion in the General Assembly on 23 July 2009 and the statements of its then president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.

[5] https://www.icc-cpi.int/sites/default/files/RS-Eng.pdf

[6] https://www.oas.org/en/sla/dil/inter_american_treaties_A-41_charter_OAS.asp

[7] https://www.claritypress.com/product/building-a-just-world-order/

[8] https://www.ohchr.org/en/unilateral-coercive-measures

[9] https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr-unilateral-coercive-measures/professor-alena-douhan-special-rapporteur-negative-impact-unilateral-coercive-measures

[10] https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2018/05/un-expert-says-unilateral-coercive-measures-exacerbate-humanitarian-crisis

Alfred de Zayas is a law professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN Independent Expert on International Order 2012-18. He is the author of twelve books including “Building a Just World Order” (2021) “Countering Mainstream Narratives” 2022, and “The Human Rights Industry” (Clarity Press, 2021).