Grand Poobah of R2P Goes All Travis Bickle on FPIF’s Zunes

Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia, has carved a formidable post-government service career as, for instance, the head of the International Crisis Group and co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Perhaps most notably, as Foreign Policy in Focus’s own Stephen Zunes writes at Alternet:

Gareth Evans is perhaps best known internationally as the world’s principal intellectual architect and proponent of the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which calls for Western military intervention in crisis areas to prevent massacres of civilians. He was particularly outspoken in his support for what he referred to as “the overwhelming moral case” for the controversial NATO military intervention in Libya, which went well beyond the original mandate to protect civilians to effectively become the air force of the rebel coalition.

Whatever controversy — if practice, if not in theory — affixes itself to R2P is dwarfed by a blot on Evans’s record while foreign minister. Professor Zunes’s explanation begins:

In early 1991, despite reports by Amnesty International and other human rights groups documenting the contrary, Evans had stated that East Timor’s “human rights situation has, in our judgment, conspicuously improved, particularly under the current military arrangements.” When Indonesian forces massacred 430 civilians at a funeral in the capital of Dili nine months later, Evans falsely described the mass killings as simply “an aberration, not an act of state policy.” In the face of international outrage at an Indonesian “investigation” of the tragedy which blamed the massacres on the nonviolent protesters, Evans claimed there was “no case to be supremely critical” of the regime. He insisted that the Indonesian dictatorship had “responded in a reasonable and credible way” and argued that “essentially punitive responses from the international community are not appropriate” (a very different perspective than he would later take toward non-ally Libya).

None too savory and it only gets worse. Professor Zunes brought his record up to Evans at a recent conference in Australia.

I thought it appropriate to ask an Egyptian speaker – who had expressed his disappointment at continued Western support for the military junta in Egypt – about perceptions in his country of Western double-standards. I prefaced my question by noting how the American and British governments were opposing the repressive regime in Syria while supporting the repressive regime in Bahrain, how Washington had called for greater democracy in Egypt while arming its autocratic military rulers, and how the principal advocate for Western intervention against the Libyan regime to stop repression under the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” had, as foreign minister of Australia, supported far greater repression by the Indonesian regime against the East Timorese.

Before I could get to the actual question, Evans shouted out, “Are you referring to me?” I answered, “Yes, actually.” “That’s crap!” he yelled.

Echoes of Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (“You talkin’ to me?”). Read Professor Zunes’s AlterNet article in its entirety to see how the drama played out. I guess Evans saw a need for the Responsibility to Protect … his own reputation, not to mention his fragile ego.