The principle of non-intervention and the malfunction of the UN Security Council - Birungi Denis - Whisper Eye

The principle of non-intervention and the malfunction of the UN Security Council – Birungi Denis

The heightened political crisis in Venezuela puts a core principle of international law- non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states enshrined under the UN charter, to a test.

The principle is premised on the concept of equality of states, also enshrined in theUN Charter. Venezuela has been in a political crisis since 2013, after the death of Hugo Chavez. The subsequent ascendance to power of Nicholas Maduro was unfortunate for the country. Currently, the Venezuelan peopleare in dire humanitarian need as result of economic mismanagement by the Maduro regime.

Maduro clamped down on the opposition and manipulated the constitution. Protests have since engulfed the capital Caracas. Of recent, the leader of the opposition dominated national assembly, Juan Guaido declared himself interim president. The US, Canada, Europe Union and most Latin America countries recognise him as the legitimate interim leader.Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council reiterated their support for Maduro.

Russia and China justify their stand on the basis of the principle of non- interference, but their real concern is economic interests in the country’s resources and the desire to challenge the west. China fears that its debts may not be paid in the event of change of government.

Russia acts hypocritically by claiminginternational law for its position, given its dirty record in violating it, not only by interfering with the US election but also the annexation of Crimea, a territory of Ukraine.

The principle of non-interference is not an end in itself. It is intendedto achieve certain objectives. Customary international law agrees that exceptions exist, one being humanitarian intervention. Where a neighbour’s house is burning, and people are yawning for help, the notion that no one should intervenebecause of the need for privacy is devoid of logic. That is the exactsituation in Venezuela.

Of course there are politics to play. Suspicion between world powers and a need to show power complicates the situation. Trump and the rest of western leaders are right to recognize Mr Guaido. Russia’s support to Maduro is for no legitimate concern other than the need to challenge the US. That is what it did in Syria, and it won. The US needs to stand up to Russian bullying if it is to sustain its global influence, and to avoid reckless interventions like that in Libya and Iraq, convince the world that it only intervenes for humanitarian reasons with a plan for restoration of order in the aftermath.

Sadly, the US too has lost international respect since the ascendance to power of Mr. Trump.  The UN Security Council, meant to be a force for good, has been abused by both the US and Russia to advance their global interests. Both countries have blocked crucial resolutions for no reason other than politics or interests at the expense of global peace. Even on the Venezuelan crisis, Russia and China will misuse their veto powers.

The calls forthe much needed reform of the Security Council have fallen on deaf ears, because the global powers that largely fund it, have the greatest say. The veto system of the UN Security council should be scrapped and in its place, a procedure where decisions are reached by a majority vote.

The power of the Security Council should be reduced, and given to the General Assembly or some to the Secretariat. The UN Charter reserved enormous powers to the Security Council due to influence by the US, owing to its role in ending the Second World War. It therefore had strong negotiating position, and European powers, weakened by the war, had much trust in the US continuing its influence on the Security Council. Now that trust has eroded, and rival powers- China and Russia are increasingly assertive. The Security Council will fail to achieve its intended objectives in an environment of global hostility and rivalry. The end result will be more chaos, as in Syria.

Global powers should recall, that the Security Council’s power to intervene was meant for observance of global peace and stability, not advancement of national interests and rivalry. 

Birungi Denis is a lawyer,