Need collective action to fulfill moral obligations to refugees; 2,000 refugees are dying per year
BAN KI-MOON, New York times, September 17, 2017, The refugee crisis is a test of our collective conscience, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/16/opinion/politics/ban-ki-moon-refugee-crisis.html
In 1951 a young boy and his family fled their burning village during a brutal war that brought immeasurable death and destruction to their country. He witnessed pronounced human suffering that would continue to haunt him in the days and years to come. This child uprooted by conflict was me — the same boy who would grow up to be elected as the eighth secretary general of the United Nations in 2006. As secretary general, I met so many children around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, who reminded me of my own wrenching experience of displacement. Seeing myself in each of them, I have remained determined to elevate the plight of refugees to the top of the global agenda today. As of the end of 2017, a record 68.5 million people around the world had been forced from their homes, including 25.4 million refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Only 102,800, less than 1 percent of the total number of displaced, were admitted for resettlement in 2017. Furthermore, data from the Missing Migrants Project shows that nearly 2,000 refugees and migrants died during the first six months of 2018 as they made perilous journeys across borders and high seas. Despite the scale of the refugee challenge, we need to think of it first and foremost as a crisis of solidarity. Whether the world can come together to effectively support these vulnerable groups will be a true test of our collective conscience. An increase in political will is urgently needed from our world leaders, as is a readiness to partner with others. This political will must be guided by an enhanced sense of our common humanity, rather than a belief in barriers and barbed wire. Faced with images of unthinkable suffering from the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, or with evidence of gross human rights violations in Myanmar and elsewhere, too many leaders have lacked the necessary courage to respond with generosity and support. Some leaders have gone so far as to actively encourage prejudice against refugees and migrants simply to win votes. Countries in the developing world — Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, Iran, Bangladesh and Sudan — are host to among the largest numbers of refugees, while the prosperous nations of the global north have failed (with the exception of Germany) to share the burden fairly. This needs to change. Wealthier countries must admit and resettle significantly more than the less than 1 percent of the world’s refugee population resettled in 2017. Such equitable sharing of responsibility is critical to ameliorating this crisis of global solidarity.
The US has an ethical obligation to bolster the global refugee resettlement regime – millions of lives are at stake and failure authorizes countless atrocities
Hollenback, 16 – previous University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice and was Director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College, previous Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in Ethics and American History at the John W. Kluge Center for Scholars at the Library of Congress, received the Civitas Dei Medal from Villanova University, received the Marianist Award from the University of Dayton, received the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society for America (David, “Borders and Duties to the Displaced: Ethical Perspectives on the Refugee Protection System”, Journal on Migration and Human Security by the Center for Migration Studies of New York, 2016, http://cmsny.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/JMHSspecialcoll-Global-Refugee-Protection.pdf)
B. Positive Duties Regrettably, we have learned from history and from insight into human moral weakness that threats to human rights will continue to occur. This raises the question of what positive obligations we have to come to the assistance of the displaced when crises in fact occur. To address this issue we can draw on a mode of moral analysis originally developed in the 1970s in the context of debate about who had duties to help eliminate the apartheid regime that separated South African people by race and ethnicity. In that debate, some maintained that only those who had created the apartheid system had a duty to work to overcome it. But a very different ethical approach was proposed by several scholars at Yale University who argued that under certain circumstances persons, communities, institutions, and states can have positive duties to help remedy harms they did not themselves cause. They called their approach the Kew Gardens Principle, for it arose from their reflection on a tragic case that occurred in the Kew Gardens section of New York City in 1964 (Simon, Powers, and Gunnemann 1972). According to press reports, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was viciously assaulted, stabbed, and died a slow death while 38 nearby people watched and did nothing, failing even to call the police. It has since been learned that the initial reports of what happened were not fully accurate (Lemann 2014). But the public outrage stimulated by the press reports points to the fact that most people have a conviction that there can be positive moral duties to aid others in emergency situations. It is not enough to avoid causing harm. In some situations omission can become as morally objectionable as commission. Drawing on this conviction, the Kew Gardens principle argues that an agent has a positive responsibility to help when four conditions are present: (1) there is a critical need; (2) the agent has proximity to the need; (3) the agent has the capability to assist; (4) the agent is likely the last resort from whom help can be expected (Simon, Powers, and Gunnemann 1972, 23-25). Subsequent reflection has added a fifth condition: (5) the action can be taken without disproportionate harm to the one providing assistance. These criteria, of course, cannot be applied mechanically. But they can help us think about the scope of positive responsibilities in the face of the crisis-level suffering that is displacing so many people today. For example, there can be little doubt that large numbers of people are in grave need of protection in Syria and South Sudan today and that this need is driving many from their homes. Those inside the borders of these crisis-torn countries are vulnerable to harms that could lead to their deaths or to violations of other basic rights, and they are in flight because of this vulnerability. The duty to respond to such need falls first upon those whose proximity to the crisis makes them more likely to have knowledge of the need and better understanding of how to respond to it. This means, of course, that the government of the nation where the crisis occurs and local communities within that nation bear the prime responsibility. In South Sudan and Syria, therefore, both the governments and the opposition forces in each country have the negative duty to stop the atrocities that are causing crisis and the positive duty to help lift the burdens of suffering. Duty to take positive action, however, does not end at the national borders of the countries where crisis is present. When people become aware of crisis in a neighboring country or even in a country at a great distance, this awareness leads to what might be called intellectual or psychological proximity. It puts them in moral proximity to those who are suffering. There has been helpful though imperfect response to the duties arising from proximity by the countries neighboring South Sudan. The regional organization of Sudan’s neighboring countries — Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and Eritrea — is called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). IGAD has played a diplomatic role in seeking to mediate the conflict within South Sudan that began in 2013, as they did in helping secure the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the earlier conflict between northern and southern Sudan that ultimately led to the independence of South Sudan in 2011. Regrettably, economic and political self-interest has sometimes distorted the mediation efforts of several countries that are part of IGAD, particularly Uganda and Ethiopia. This has in turn led several countries from outside the region to become involved in an effort known as IGAD Plus, which includes the African Union (AU), United Nations, China, United States, United Kingdom, Norway, and the European Union. A sense of moral responsibility arose in these more distant countries because of their proximity through awareness. These combined regional and global mediation efforts have certainly not been perfect. Nevertheless, a fragile peace process is underway (ICG 2015). Both nearby and distant neighbors can have the knowledge that enables them to make a difference. The criterion of capability also sheds light on positive duties to respond to crises that displace large numbers of people. In considering this issue it has become common to point out that someone who cannot swim does not have a duty to come to the aid of a child who is drowning if providing the aid requires swimming, while a good swimmer can have a duty to respond. Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are today already massively overburdened with Syrian refugees. They do not possess the economic and other resources to take in many additional refugees. On the other hand, the resources of the wealthy nations of northern Europe, North America, and the oil-producing Gulf states give them the capability to receive many more refugees and to share the burdens being carried by Syria’s already overtaxed proximate neighbors. The assistance being provided to the countries bordering Syria is woefully inadequate. Capability to assist gives many nations in Europe, North America, and the Gulf a duty both to receive many more Syrian refugees than they have and a responsibility to provide more assistance to Syria’s nearby neighbors (Rummery 2015). The duty to share the burden of assistance to displaced people is proportional to the capability of doing so. Countries with greater economic and political capacities to help have proportionally greater responsibilities to do so. These responsibilities may be carried out by granting asylum and refugee status to more of the displaced, and, perhaps most urgently, by providing economic and other forms of assistance to countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan who are already carrying a disproportionate burden. The existence of duties such as these is a consequence of the fact that the responsibility to assist displaced people reaches across national borders. The fact that state sovereignty is not a moral or political absolute becomes clear in face of the needs of forcibly displaced persons. In his work on response to the needs of internally displaced people, the Sudanese scholar and diplomat Francis Mading Deng argued that sovereignty is such an important value because it secures each country’s ability to protect its own people by preventing external powers from taking harmful action within its national boundaries, for example by invasion or colonial exploitation. Deng called this sovereignty-as-responsibility (Deng 1996). Sovereignty does not mean a government is free to do whatever it will within its own borders, such as taking actions that create large numbers of internally displaced persons or refugees. If a government fails to protect its own people, either because it is unable or unwilling to do so, the duty to assist those who are threatened by this failure can pass to the other nations. Thus the responsibility to assist and to protect the rights of persons threatened with or experiencing displacement falls first on their own government. But if their government is unable or unwilling to secure their rights, the responsibility to do so can move to other countries and their people (Martin 2010, 28-31). Deng’s thinking contributed in an important way to the development of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), initially proposed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) and subsequently affirmed at the 2005 UN General Assembly World Summit (UNGA 2005, nos. 138-39; ICISS 2001).R2P states that the international community can have positive duties “to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” Protective action should come in the first instance from people’s own government. Only if that government is failing to provide this protection should other countries consider action. When violations of human rights reach the level of atrocity and lead to the displacement such violations often cause, action by other countries through “diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means” can become appropriate and even required. The responsibility to protect has been the focus of heated controversy since it was endorsed by heads of state at the UN General Assembly in 2005. Political realists oppose it because they hold that foreign policy should be determined by the interests of one’s own people, not by a supposed moral responsibility to other countries. Others see it as a form of neoimperialism. Still others say that the situation in Libya today in the aftermath of the NATO intervention there shows R2P doesn’t work, and that the current massive crisis in Syria and surrounding countries shows the R2P cannot work. Despite these critiques, it is important to note that the responsibility to protect has in fact been invoked on a number of occasions since 2005 and that it has led to effective protection of people from grave rights violations. For example, when conflict flared in Kenya following the disputed 2007 elections, nonviolent, diplomatic initiatives were taken by numerous international actors to stop the conflict that took several thousand lives and displaced half a million people. Kofi Annan stated that he saw the crisis in Kenya through “the R2P prism” (Cohen 2008). This led to intense diplomatic initiatives by the United Nations, the African Union, and a number of other governments from Africa and around the world, including the United States (International Coalition for R2P, sec. II). A power sharing agreement was reached and the downward spiral into civil war and perhaps even genocide was stopped. The Kenyan case illustrates that the responsibility to protect can be successfully carried out through nonviolent political and diplomatic means. The R2P doctrine has also been invoked on several occasions in the past decade to justify the use of military force to protect people from atrocities, following the UN General Assembly’s affirmation that if diplomatic initiatives do not succeed, the use of armed force can become legitimate as a last resort under chapter VII of the UN Charter. For example, in 2012 France and the Economic Community of West African States took military action with UN approval in the pursuit of peace in Mali, and in 2013, the UN Security Council supported the use of force by French and African Union troops to stop the atrocities that were occurring in the Central African Republic and the displacement of nearly one million refugees and other forced migrants.6 Though these cases are certainly not resolved, they indicate that the doctrine of the responsibility to protect can lead to action that can help prevent grave crisis from becoming much worse and can lead to some improvement in crisis situations that force many people from their homes. Two other cases, however, Libya and Syria, raise questions about whether R2P has any relevance to current efforts to respond to the refugee crisis. In the Libya case, the United Nations authorized action to protect civilians when fears arose that Libya’s leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, was about to commit atrocities. Qaddafi referred to his adversaries in Benghazi as “cockroaches,” the very epithet Hutu used for Tutsi during the Rwanda genocide (BBC News 2011). As a result, the UN Security Council, with the notable support of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States, called for the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.7 NATO intervened with airpower, Qaddafi was killed, and his regime was overthrown. Sadly, Libya has since fallen into political chaos, with armed conflicts among several groups, significant violations of human rights on the basis of religion, the displacement of many, and the unsafe flight of migrants across the Mediterranean (Amnesty International 2015, 5-6). These consequences confirm for some observers the conviction that pursuing humanitarian goals not required by national self-interest is likely to do more harm than good (Kuperman 2015, 66-77). I would argue, however, that the intervention in Libya failed not because it was excessive but because it was incomplete. Following the norms that some specialists in the ethics of war are today calling jus post bellum, justice after conflict, NATO and the United States should have followed up their intervention with action to rebuild and to prevent the chaos that developed (Chollet and Fishman 2015, 154-57). What happened in Libya was an incomplete implementation of R2P, not a simple failure. Had the intervention followed through with the peace building and reconstruction efforts that were clearly required, the situation on the ground in Libya would not have disintegrated in the way that it has, and many fewer people would be in flight from the chaos of that tragic situation. Syria has also been invoked to suggest that R2P is dead. The political complexities and moral ambiguities of the Syrian situation go very deep. But these complexities do not discredit the existence of a duty to protect people facing atrocities when protection is possible. Thomas Weiss has argued that the wisdom of the use of military force to protect people from atrocities is governed by three factors: legality, moral legitimacy, and feasibility (Weiss 2014). In Syria it is clear that the legal prohibitions of war crimes and of other atrocities have been massively violated. The moral legitimacy of efforts to stop a conflict that has displaced over half the Syrian population and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians is also evident. The feasibility of military intervention to alleviate the crisis, however, is unclear. This does not undermine the idea that there is a responsibility to protect people from atrocity and from being driven from home by mayhem when it is possible to do so. The apparent lack of presently feasible ways to overcome the crisis in Syria suggests that intervention is not now called for by R2P. I would argue, however, that the duty to protect the Syrian people does call for continuing political and diplomatic initiatives to find a path toward their protection. Not only Assad and the rebels, but also Russia, Iran, some Gulf states, and others are keeping the crisis in Syria alive. The global community, therefore, has a duty to continue engage these powers diplomatically and possibly through other forms of continuing engagement. There is also continuing responsibility to the large number of Syrians presently seeking refuge in Europe and other parts of the developed world. At a minimum, we need to live up to 1951 Refugee Convention’s call for refugees fleeing persecution to be granted protection. Countries in Europe and North America have the capability and resources to grant asylum or refugee protection to a considerably larger number of Syrians than is happening today. The number of Syrians seeking asylum in Europe is not even close to the number already within the borders of Syria’s neighbors (ICG 2016). When in the fall of 2015 UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his country would grant refugee protection to 20,000 Syrians over the next five years, he was appropriately reminded that Lebanon had admitted that many Syrians over the past two weekends. Indeed, developing countries today host 86 percent of the world’s refugees, with the very poorest countries hosting 25 percent of the global total (UNHCR 2015, 2-3). The rich nations of the North have the capability and therefore the responsibility to admit a larger number of refugees and asylum seekers and to assist the poorer countries already hosting most of the world’s refugees. A substantial increase in the funds being provided to Syria’s neighbors for this burden sharing by the North should be a priority today. To achieve this, the rich nations of the northern hemisphere will have to overcome tendencies to racially or religiously driven xenophobia and the mistaken fear that terrorists are often refugees. In addition, European powers such as France and the United Kingdom that gained economically from their colonies in Africa and Asia have duties to be open to refugees from these regions. A country with a history of military involvement in another nation can also have special obligations to people in flight from that nation. The United States recognized its particular duty to receive refugees from Vietnam after the Vietnam War. Though the US intervention in Iraq was certainly not the sole cause of the displacement of many Iraqis, it was a significant factor that contributed to the political chaos that led to the huge forced migration of Iraqis that has occurred. Political scientist Stephen Walt recently observed that if the United States and its allies had not invaded Iraq in 2003, there would almost certainly be no Islamic State today (Walt 2015). Thus there would be fewer people from Iraq and Syria seeking asylum and refugee protection. This deepens the duties of the United States and its allies toward those refugees. Finally, it is well known that many observers believe there are good reasons to wonder whether national self-interest may not overshadow the duties and prevent the actions advocated here. Nevertheless, the work of Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink has shown that advocacy for normative standards in some domains of contemporary international politics has had significant positive impact (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). The standards of the international law of refugee protection and for the regulation of armed conflict were the result of normative advocacy by groups such as the Red Cross over the past century. More recently, though the ICC is still a developing institution, “normative entrepreneurs” have advanced the effort to hold political leaders accountable for violating normative standards in several international tribunals. This suggests that, contrary to the standard realist argument, ethical standards can come to have real impact on the conduct of nations. There is hope, therefore, that the September 2016 UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants can lead to genuine innovation in the protection of refugees and other victims of war and humanitarian crisis. Normative pressure from nongovernmental bodies, including religious communities and faith-based agencies, can make important normative contributions to action more fully in accord with the responsibilities incompletely sketched in this article. IV. Conclusion The refugee crisis that is occurring today means that the high moral value that has been assigned to national borders and state sovereignty in the modern, Westphalian international system must be reassessed. Human rights have been proclaimed as universal norms, and this universality can be supported by secular philosophies such as that developed by Kant and by the major religious traditions of the world, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These rights require that all political actors, both states and non-state agents, refrain from grave abuses of human rights such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other abuses that effectively treat people as if they were not human at all. Atrocities such as these are among the major causes of refugee movement and other forms of forced migration today. Acting to prevent such crimes and holding accountable those who nevertheless commit them will be a crucial step in making the global system of refugee protection more adequate. Doing so should be a main objective at the September 2016 United Nations Summit, and elsewhere as well. Similarly, taking positive steps to come to the aid of those who have been driven from home will be essential to a more effective refugee regime. The duty to provide such assistance to those already displaced falls on neighboring countries, on those in the local region, and on the global community as a whole. The responsibility of countries to provide help is proportional both to their proximity to those in need and, more importantly today, to their capacity to provide effective assistance. The rich nations of Europe, North America, and the oil-rich Gulf states thus have urgent duties to assist the very poor countries who are hosting most of the world’s refugees today. Developing fair and politically effective ways of assigning the share of the responsibility that different developed nations should carry will be essential to the creation of a more effective refugee system. It will be a great disappointment if the September 2016 meeting at the UN General Assembly fails to make substantial progress on this task. But while the leadership of the United Nations and its constituent national governments is essential, the task is not theirs alone. Many humanitarian NGOs, both secular and faith-based, have broad experience in responding to the needs of the displaced across national borders. These organizations are thus well positioned to help in the development of a system that is more effective. Hearing their voices will be important as revisions in the refugee regime are being considered. It can be hoped that all available practical wisdom will be drawn upon to create more adequate ways of responding to the present crisis. Many millions of lives