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The United Nations Charter requires the USA to protect human rights in Afghanistan

By Patrick Byrt - posted Monday, 15 October 2001

Though it may have been a canker for Washington and the Pentagon since 1948, the United Nations Charter sets the UN a present responsibility to maintain international peace and security.

It is too late and preposterous for any nation today, including a superpower, to creditably argue after 50 years of the UN that incidental civilian casualties are not inconsistent with either the spirit or the peace objectives of the UN. This incredulity equally extends to the United States of America and Australia, as both were, and remain, key founding State Parties to the UN Charter.

But the grave questions facing policy, populations, and powers now are not whether this was a surprise act of war equal to Pearl Harbor 1941, or how comparable the barbaric loss of human life is to the WWII firebombing of Dresden and the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


From WWII all global power has developed alongside a deepening interest in the furtherance of international judicial institutions and international human rights law. Today they are best suited to bring to justice those responsible for terror, rather than the cold instruments of war, violence and destruction. A multilateral legal approach is essential to resolving the World Trade Centre and Pentagon horrors, rather than unilaterally declared militarist action of a "war on terrorism", which treats coalition support as being almost incidental. This is counselled, if not by experience or a need for effectiveness, then by the need to respect and uphold a future for human rights.

Starkly, the very future of global human rights is in the balance, unless the United States adopts moderation and restraint, and avoids war as its response to renewed domestic terrorist attack.

Although there may be no explicit Charter provision providing a direct obligation on member nations to protect civilians during war, the accepted perception is of a consistent abhorrence of armed force as anything but a solution of last resort in self-defence or "in the common interest".

Equally important, the preamble spells out the Charter’s primary aim "to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained". Subscription to the Charter asserts a set of certain legal and inalienable human rights for all peoples under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Also, non-terrorist governments may not be justly condemned for the attack without compelling evidence of their cooperation or complicity with those individuals who actually committed the crimes in question. For the concept of a national government is separate and distinct from any terrorist crimes that may operate from within national borders, and therefore governments cannot be held unduly accountable for crimes for which there is no sound evidence implicating them.

Likewise, no innocent civilians residing in a nation that may be, partly or fully, implicated in any crimes perpetrated against the US, must bear any responsibility for the actions of their national government. They must be guaranteed safety and immunity from military or judicial action taken against states in which they reside. It is against their legal and human rights not to do so.


As well, the Geneva Conventions, which do explicitly provide for the protection of civilians, are a cornerstone of customary international law (notwithstanding very regrettable inconsistencies in their application). Accordingly the application of the Geneva Conventions, among such other legal international instruments, is incumbent by force of the UN Charter on member nations.

Australia has the duty and right as a good friend of the US to ensure the conduct of a just, but peaceful, international response to the Sept 11 crimes against humanity. To withdraw ANZUS support for any unlawful retaliatory action on civilians outside the UN Charter, is one such step.

Such a course is compatible with human rights and with Article 6 of the ANZUS Treaty which states: "This Treaty does not affect and shall not be interpreted as affecting in any way the rights and obligations of the Parties under the Charter of the United Nations or the responsibility of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security." (Treaty Article 6)

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About the Author

Patrick Byrt is an Adelaide-based writer in the Multicultural Writers Association of Australia. He writes for The Bigger Picture accessible at and

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