HC Deb 31 January 2000 vol 343 cc459-60W
Maria Eagle

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the UK proposals for international action in response to humanitarian crises which he is discussing with international partners. [108095]

Mr. Robin Cook

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in his speech at the Mansion House on 22 November that the international community needs an agreed framework on when and how it is appropriate to intervene in the face of massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The United Nations Charter declares that armed force should not be used, save in the common interest. We need to build consensus on what that common interest is and how we define it.

We believe that the development of a set of pragmatic understandings on action in response to humanitarian crises would help the Security Council—acting on behalf of the Members of the United Nations—to reach consensus when such crises occur, thus ensuring effective and timely action by the international community. In this context, we have put to the UN Secretary-General and to key international partners a set of ideas, of which the key elements are: first, any intervention is by definition a failure of prevention. Force should always be the last resort. second, the immediate responsibility for halting violence rests with the state in which it occurs; but, third, when faced with an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe and a government that has demonstrated itself unwilling or unable to prevent it, the international community should take action; and finally, any use of force in this context must be collective, proportionate, likely to achieve its objective, and carried out in accordance with international law.

The detail of these preliminary ideas is still under discussion with partners. Once we have had time to take account of their views and develop our proposals further, we will place a copy in the Library of the House.