Is the development of an international norm of humanitarian intervention sufficient in preventing genocide and mass killings

The history of the world has seen many gross violations of human rights with genocide and mass killing being one of them. With the world expanding in terms of fast and effective communication channels it is hard to ignore such violations when they occur. Part of the reason behind the development of an international norm for humanitarian intervention was so that other responsible states can stop and prevent such atrocities from happening. This essay sets out to evaluate the norm and judge if it is in fact adequate enough.

The essay sets out with the two perspectives and the arguments presented by the realists and idealists as these are the two ideologies followed by most world leaders. It is further on followed by UN and the Security Council’s stand point on humanitarian intervention and what can be expected if an intervention was to take place. The essay distinguishes the various options for intervention and then further on evaluates cases of when interventions have taken place and the reasons behind them and when they have failed to do so.

The realist perspective approach moral principles with scepticism and instead whole heartedly believe in state leaders should distance themselves from morality. The perspective suggests state leaders to adopt a dual moral standard, one that deals with its individual citizens and another standard for dealing with other nation states in order to survive. Preserving the life of the state is seen as the only important moral duty for the state leaders (Tim Dunne, 2008).

On the hand we have the liberalists who view the world from an idealist lens and base everything on the powers of democracy. As Immanuel Kant (1724) a liberalist thinker states that those states with a democratic government are less likely to go to war with their democratic neighbours and respect the rights of their own citizens. Liberalists such as John Stuart Mills (1973) believe that democratic states are established by the informed consent and wishes of its citizen and in order to establish such democracy the locals should struggle for it.

The oppressed should overthrow the tyrant governments and not the outsiders. He further on argues that those who do intervene will find themselves in a never ending human rights issues or the abuse would start again as soon as they leave. A modern day example of this would be the collation forces’ war on terror and intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are the perspectives taken aboard by many of the world leaders today and helps in the understanding the international norm of humanitarian intervention.

It was declared by Kofi Annan, the former security general of the UN in September 1991 while addressing the general assembly that the developing international norm of forcible humanitarian intervention was to be replaced by a new one. In the new norm the UN Security Council was to put a stop to forcible interventions in fully functioning sovereign states. At the 2005 UN World Summit the definition of the responsibility to protect was adopted by the UN General Assembly (Alex J. Bellamy, 2008).

This has been the approach and norm taken up by the UN while dealing with matters of humanitarian interventions. Based on the principles set in the UN charter, it has been argued by Michael Reisman (1985) that the UN Security Council should have then taken armed action against those states that took part in genocide and mass murder during the cold war. As seen through out history this action has failed to take place. Furthermore, under the UN charter possible interventions have to be called out or have the issue raised by the Council or Secretary General.

This proves to be in-adequate as the suffering states are left at the mercy of the UN in deciding if at first the issue is even worth raising and if it is, then discussing if any and what type of action is to be taken. This process can be agonising long for the citizens of those states who are in dire need of a humanitarian intervention (Alex J. Bellamy, 2008). In order to be able to build up a fair judgement of the current norm and to understand the UN’s role in humanitarian intervention, it is important to recognise the boundaries the organisation is confined within.

It is not to say that humanitarian interventions have not taken place or in some case not been successful because that would be an un-fair statement. They have taken place and done a fair amount of good as well, but they have mostly been in the form of a military intervention. There are many other ways of preventing crimes against humanity in particular genocide and mass murder, but the most used response is that of a military intervention, which really should be used as a last resort and not the first choice.

As laid down in the responsibility to protect report (2001) the international community is to react with appropriate ‘coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecutions and in extreme cases military interventions’ (1CCISS, 2001. p. p. XI). Furthermore as described in the report if military interventions do take place then they need to be of the duration and intensity so to secure the human protection objective. This sadly has not been the case as economic sanctions along with other peaceful methods have not been used to the fullest or been backed by military interventions which have gone beyond their need to intervene.

It is important to recognise that states do not intervene for purely humanitarian reasons. They only risk the lives of their soldiers if something is to be gained for them or their state. Interventions are guided by national interest than anything else. As the realist perspective would argue that political leaders do not have the right or the power to shed blood of their own citizens for suffering foreigners (Alex J. Bellamy, 2008). This point was fairly proven when the UN or any of the VETO powers choose not to respond or intervene during the human rights disaster in Rwanda or Sudan.

One of the reasons for not intervening was there were no physical commodities to be gained from the intervention and neither was the US’s national interest at stake. Since there was nothing at staked or to be gained it was not feasible to lose soldiers lives while doing ‘good’. The second reason for not intervening by the VETO powers was that it is believed that the US played a hand in creating the crisis. In Rwanda the CIA and MI6 are known to have played a role in the insurgency that led to the humanitarian crisis of genocide and mass killing as suggested in the International State Crime Initiative (Cameron).

This goes to show where nations have failed to intervene when most desperately needed to. When states do decide to intervene they have done so while abusing this power in the process. The power to intervene has been abused several times in the past by various powerful states such as the USA and coalition forces war in Iraq in 1991 and Hitler’s invasion into Czechoslovakia on the bases of humanitarian intervention. These decisions to intervene were based on the nation states that did intervene gaining something in return.

It is simply the abuse by the powerful in order to justify interference in the affairs of the weak nations (Alex J. Bellamy, 2008). It is this selectivity of the response that makes the international norm even the more in-adequate in responding to intervention needs. The current norm of humanitarian intervention is not sufficient, as seen in the past again and again mass killings keep on going and nations not intervening unless it is in their interest.

The realist and liberalist perspective look at the whole issue of intervention from two very different lights but both respond against intervening. The realists see it as against the states interest and the moral duty towards the state comes above anything else. The liberalists believe in the power of democracy and the states in need of help of intervening should sort it out themselves by overthrowing tyrant governments and establishing democracy.

The UN and Security Council are there but they are limited to the boundaries set forth in the charter. With regards to further research, the responsibility to protect report provided some good suggestions and maybe creating a separate body that looks into issues of intervention can be formed, but then forms the problem of discrediting the UN and its sovereignty. The current norm of intervention is week but it can be made stronger by developing various other ways of intervention and limiting military intervention as an absolute last resort.