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A Crime against Humanity? Implications and Prospects of the Responsibility to Protect in the Wake of Cyclone Nargis

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In May 2008 Cyclone Nargis created significant international debate when the ruling military regime in Myanmar refused to allow international relief supplies and specialists into the country. The discussion that followed included invoking the principle of Responsibility to Protect as a way of forcing the regime to accept international assistance. This proposal caused sharp division amongst governments, relief agencies, journalists and citizens. The regime's shocking refusal to accept assistance constituted a crime against humanity and, as such, deserved consideration as an R2P situation. The damage which military action involves was severely underestimated by those proposing it and although the situation following Nargis clearly met the threshold criteria, permitting coercive intervention, the precautionary principles were not satisfied, thus making coercive intervention under R2P impermissible. The involvement of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) following Nargis facilitated entry of disaster assessment teams and some aid into Myanmar. In light of Myanmar's fear of intervention in its affairs, the international community should have used R2P to frame a response and worked with ASEAN from the outset to pressure the regime to respond to the disaster more effectively.


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