The principle of “non-intervention” arose over 350 years from the Peace of Westphalia as a rule in international relations to prevent the emerging national states from intervening directly or indirectly in each other’s domestic affairs. The aim was to guarantee equal sovereignty, the self-determination of every nation and self-restraint on the part of the great powers.
Yet such tragedies resulting from the passivity of the international community as the Holocaust or the two World Wars showed that this principle cannot nor should not be absolute.
The creation of organisations like the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thus empowered a greater intervention in the domestic agenda of countries across the globe with the progressive erosion of the principle of non-intervention, most of all in exceptional scenarios of grave human rights violations.
Argentina adopted this agenda only after the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) when state terrorism and a plan of systematic repression marked the darkest period of our nation’s history. From then on, the foreign policy of our country has been converted into the commitment to defend democracy and human rights as state policies.
This position based on principles presumes preventing, or at least making more difficult, the adoption of double standards heeding political considerations or interests of the sitting government. The defence of democracy and human rights is above the cyclical allies who violate them, at least in theory.
Nevertheless, the sympathies of a sector of the governing Frente de Todos coalition with the former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and a certain pseudo-progressive political alignment led the Argentine government to abstain from repudiating the recent fraudulent elections in Nicaragua, when Ortega was re-elected to a fourth term. Beforehand, he had jailed as many as seven opposition presidential candidates and committed grave violations, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In this context, the principle of non-intervention has the same result as not prosecuting domestic violence because it was committed inside the accused’s own home, thus leaving the victim – in this case the Nicaraguan people – totally unprotected. Analogously, the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires excused itself a fortnight ago from repudiating the fraudulent election, citing “our diplomatic tradition of not interfering in the domestic questions of other nations.”
There was a healthy twist last week when Argentina modified its abstention vote and opted to support an Organisation of American States (OAS) resolution affirming that the elections “were not free, fair nor transparent, lacking any democratic legitimacy,” calling for a rapid collective evaluation of the political and electoral situation with possible sanctions. The hasty decision of Daniel Ortega to withdraw his country from the OAS doubtless promises new chapters.
In a world still convulsed by the pandemic, and in a region marked by a growing mistrust towards democracy and the growth of more extremist parties, Argentina is still recognised for its human rights and democratic policies, despite its problems. That doubtless confers rights but mainly obligations, including the need to set aside ideological affinities and discern when it is time for principles.
* Agustín Ulanovsky is a lawyer and researcher specialising in human rights and international relations.
by Agustín Ulanovsky*, via Perfil