TIC Focus l

International community tries to make sure that human rights are safeguarded. For this engagement and promotion are two of the most important tools that are used. Besides these other options are also there for the states, individuals and NGOs[1]. At times it happens that states are unable to perform duties as a responsible entity. Under these circumstances it is obligatory for the international community to intervene and   safeguard the rights of victims[2]. The global community can join hands to take actions against perpetrators of crime against humanity and those responsible for carrying out gross human rights violations. Another mean for addressing the issue of human rights violations could be done by establishment of truth and reconciliation commissions, apologies, and in some cases, reparations to the victims of human rights crimes[3].

Humanitarian intervention is the last resort adopted by international community to address the issue of gross human rights violations done by a state or a group against other humans. Humanitarian intervention is the use of military force to prevent the gross violations of human rights which include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide[4]. However, humanitarian intervention should only be undertaken after fully exhausting all other peaceful options[5]. For Holzgrefe, “The term [humanitarian intervention] refers to the threat or use of force across state borders by a state (or group of states) aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied.[6]

Murphy, on the other hand, sees it as: “The threat or use of force by a State, group of States, or international organization primarily for the purpose of protecting the nationals of the target State from widespread deprivations of internationally recognized human rights, whether or not the intervention is authorized by the target State or the international community[7].” The crimes which lead to humanitarian intervention must be gross and a threat to entire humanity such as genocide, ethnic cleansing etc.

The concept of humanitarian intervention to protect human rights is often termed as a direct violation of sovereignty of a stare. For example, if the international community decided to intervene inside another state militarily to prevent the supposed violations of human rights, than the sovereignty of this state will have to be violated. International Law and UNO[8] allows such interventions provided they meet a specific criteria i.e:

  1. The state in which human rights violations are taking place either fails to take action to stop these or has no capacity to prevent this from happening.
  2. The human rights violations must be gross i.e. these must be genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, forced displacements etc.
  3. International community must resort to peaceful means to diffuse the situation e.g. amicable means must be used before resorting to use of force[9].

Once these criterion are met, international community under the auspices of UNO can resort to humanitarian intervention to protect the fundamental rights of a group or ethnicity under threat. However, this gives rise to a very important question. What about the sovereignty of state against whom such an action will be taken? International lawyers argue that there are certain red lines which must not be crossed and if they are crossed, than the international community reserves the rights to intervene[10]. These red lines are considered more important than the sacred concept of sovereignty[11].

Sovereignty is the core of modern international order. A state is not allowed to violate the sovereignty of another state. This has been guaranteed by the UN Charter and other international instruments[12]. Any threat to this concept can upset the international order and lead to the downing of international system as we know it. However, humanitarian intervention is also allowed by UNO which is one of the largest threats to sovereignty in the 21st century[13].

[1] Jerome J. Shestack, “The Philosophic Foundations of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, 20, no. 2 (1998): 203

[2]Roberts, Adam. “Humanitarian war: military intervention and human rights.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) (1993): 429-449.

[3] Sean D. Murphy, Humanitarian Intervention: The United Nations in an Evolving World Order (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 11–12.

[4] J. L. Holzgrefe, ‘The Humanitarian Intervention Debate’, in J. L. Holzgrefe and R. O. Keohane (eds), Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 15–52., 15

[5] Debra L Delaet, The Global Struggle for Human Rights: Universal Principles in World Politics. (Toronto: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006),15

[6]Shestack, “The Philosophic Foundations of Human Rights,” 207

[7]Alex J. Bellamy and Paul D. Williams, “The new politics of protection? Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and the responsibility to protect,” International Affairs 87, no.4 (2011):826

[8]United Nations, General Assembly, ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, A/810, 1948; ‘International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights’, A/6316, 1966; ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’, A/6316, 1966.

[9]UDHR Art 1. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

[10]Shestack “The Philosophic Foundations of Human Rights,” 213

[11]Shestack, “The Philosophic Foundations of Human Rights,” 215-28 for modern rights theories

[12]KarimaBennoune, ‘Sovereignty vs. Suffering’? Re-examining Sovereignty and Human Rights through the Lens of Iraq,” European Journal of International Law 13, no.243 (2002): 249

[13] Jules L. Colemen, Markets, Morals And The Law (1988) Shestack, “The Philosophic Foundations of Human Rights,” 216


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