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Lib Dems urge rethink on UN intervention

A RETHINK of the rules justifying international intervention by the United Nations to prevent human rights and environment abuses will be urged this week by the Liberal Democrats.

The party will press for Article 2 of the UN Charter, which outlaws action that questions national sovereignty, to be abandoned and replaced with new humanitarian and environmental criteria.

A policy discussion paper, Beyond the Nation State, due for debate at the party's conference next month, spotlights article 2 as the most crucial area for reform. 'This concept of sovereignty is now totally inappropriate for an interdependent world,' it says.

The call for change builds on views that Javier Perez de Cuellar began articulating towards the end of his term as UN Secretary General. Mr Perez de Cuellar believed article 2 was becoming increasingly out of date.

The main message of the paper, to be launched on Thursday by Sir David Steel, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, and Dr William Wallace, the Oxford academic and former deputy director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is that the plight of the Kurds has shown that the days of inviolate national sovereignty are over. The international community had to act even though action cut across Iraqi borders.

The paper will outline three criteria to justify intervention in the affairs of nation states: gross and persistent denial of rights under the UN Declaration of Human Rights; denial of the right to the peaceful co-existence of nations and communities; and, the most radical of the three, widespread and lasting damage to the global or regional environment.

Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, yesterday warned John Major that unless humanitarian effort was stepped up, winter in the former Yugoslavia would claim more lives than the war. A letter to the Prime Minister says: 'We should already have started the immense logistic task necessary to preserve lives in Bosnia in the coming winter. Please put your personal authority behind this so that lack of urgency now is not paid for in lost lives later.'

Describing conditions on his recent visits to Croatia and Bosnia, Mr Ashdown said 3,000 prisoners at the Magnjacke camp lived in open cattle sheds with torn clothing, no bedding and indequate food. 'I presume all the other prison camps are the same. Unless prisoners are moved out into the protection of the Red Cross, every one of those I saw would be at mortal risk by early November.'

Tony Benn, Labour MP for Chesterfield, yesterday repeated his demand for a recall of Parliament over British involvement in the air-exclusion zone operation in southern Iraq, following reports that George Bush might consider bombing targets outside the zone to bring down Saddam Hussein.