Humanitarian Action in a Dangerous Age Term Paper

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Humanitarian Action in a Dangerous Age

Humanitarian action in the present dangerous age necessitates "Humanitarian Intervention" and "Pre-emptive action."

Human rights violations have taken place from the medieval times to the present day, throughout the world. Recently, serious and widespread human rights violations and humanitarian catastrophes have rocked the world and prompted new international responses. Cambodia, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Serbia, Bosnia' Cuba and other Latin American countries, South Africa's apartheid regime, East Timor, Congo and most recently Iraq - the list is never ending - have challenged the international communities to deal with these situations. The magnitude, duration, and pace of recent emergencies, as well as how to respond to them, present serious challenges to governments and the larger international community. Actions to address such humanitarian catastrophes are urgently needed. The way a government treats its citizens is no longer exclusively an internal affair. Massive human rights violations, genocide, and repression of populations are considered sufficient to justify some form of intervention by the international community.


Humanitarian Intervention - Doctrine of Pre-emption

The definition of "Humanitarian Intervention" takes many forms. Some recent international relations literature defines humanitarian intervention as a range of actions including humanitarian assistance and forcible military intervention (Ramsbotham and Woodhouse 1996, pp. xii-xiii). These scholars argue that the term "humanitarian intervention" has a wide variety of meanings and contexts and that military intervention is only one option in the humanitarian intervention repertoire. Taking an international law approach to defining this, Sean Murphy defines humanitarian intervention 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." [Murphy Sean 1996, pp.11-12]

Humanitarian Intervention takes two forms - Authorized intervention and unilateral or unauthorized humanitarian intervention. Military action taken with the authorization of the Security Council of the United Nations to prevent gross and widespread violations of human rights is referred to as Authorized collective intervention. Unilateral intervention involves the threat or military action taken by a state without the authorization of the Security Council.

What are the origins of humanitarian intervention and how this concept has come into being? Historically, international law has been based upon the premise that what countries did to their own citizens, inside their own borders, was no one else's business. On the face of it, this may sound all right but this may not be a good thing all the time. Although the U.N. Charter is based upon the sovereign equality of member states and noninterference in each others' affairs, members themselves thought there were some limits. This was seen in the U.N. resolutions against South African Apartheid back in the '40s and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This created at least moral obligations upon every member of the United Nations to respect human rights.

There is a perception among the world powers that the post-cold war environment is more conducive to successful interventions. Humanitarian intervention, particularly after NATO action in Kosovo, has become a new justification for military action. Political leaders and commentators are now regularly affirming this concept. The justifications for military action and intervention are nothing new, but have assumed a greater importance with the recent happenings in the world in the last decade or so. Most states have now agreed to obligations on the protection of human rights.

The major argument in the humanitarian intervention debate is the conflict between ensuring respect for fundamental human rights and the primacy of the norms of sovereignty, non-intervention, and self-determination, which are considered essential factors in the maintenance of peace and international security [Danish Institute of International Affairs 1999, pp. 14-15] It has been suggested that human rights can no longer be considered a purely domestic concern and the concept of sovereignty cannot be used by governments to shield themselves from responsibility for gross violations of these rights, or from shirking their obligations with respect to the protection and treatment of civilians in situations of intra-state conflict.

Rwanda is an apt case. Three years ago, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan asked, "If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, -- to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?" It was a good question. International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty tried to answer Annan's question. The commission's report, "A Responsibility to Protect," described intervention as self-evidently dangerous and susceptible to abuse, and went on to lay down strict "precautionary principles" to prevent perversion of the concept. The report concludes by saying Military intervention for human protection purposes is an exceptional and extraordinary measure. To be warranted, there must be serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings, or imminently likely to occur ... large scale loss of life, [or] ethnic cleansing." [Williams Ian 2003]

There were enough reasons for such intervention in Iraq in the '80s, but at that time the United States and United Kingdom were supporting the Iraqi regime. However, it is ironic that in the recent Iraq war, by contrast, one of the worst misdeeds that USA committed was to bring humanitarian intervention into disrepute. By invoking Saddam Hussein's tyranny as a pretext for attacking Iraq, as he did in his speech to the United Nations last September, President Bush reached spectacular depths of hypocrisy, since it was his country, his party and indeed his father who had supported Saddam when he was perpetrating these crimes.

Some argue that as a principle of nonintervention, U.S.A did not intervene in Rwanda, but every one now knows what price Rwanda had to pay for this non-intervention of U.S.A or any other power that could have controlled Rwanda. The sovereignty of Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Pol Pot or Slobodan Milosevic, or the juntas of Argentinean and Chile and, also the Apartheid-era leaders of South Africa cannot be defended. Cuba preaches the doctrine of national sovereignty to cover its executions and its imprisonment of dissidents

Humanitarian intervention has been driven largely by popular opinion. In the '90s, the public began to clamor for political leaders to "do something" about Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor. In most of these cases, if politicians took any action, it was usually a reluctant and half-hearted response to the public opinions.

However, David Rieff in his book "A Bed for the Night" presents a different picture. He argues that humanitarian action causes more problems than it can realistically solve. His facile observation is that humanitarian assistance is a futile enterprise whose shortcomings can be tragic and fatal for those it purports to save. In his work Rieff attacks the marriage of emergency relief programs and advocacy initiatives, which is increasingly common among prominent humanitarian agencies. Such advocacy efforts range from demanding that international actors pressure local ones, to more general "awareness raising" campaigns. It is not uncommon to hear of medical teams on the frontlines claiming to "bear witness" to human rights abuses, and to collect data on human rights violations and testimonies from victims. Many will agree with his reading of events in Rwanda or Kosovo, for example, and the shortcomings of the intervening agencies as humanitarians. [Rieff David, 2002 pp 367]

In 1994, genocide in Rwanda claimed the lives of at least 500,000 Tutsi-about three quarters of their population-while UN peacekeepers were withdrawn and the rest of the world stood aside. Since then it has been argued that a small military intervention could have prevented most of the killing. In The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention, Alan J. Kuperman exposes such conventional wisdom as myth. Combining unprecedented analyses of the genocide's progression and the logistical limitations of humanitarian military intervention, Kuperman reaches a startling conclusion: even if Western leaders had ordered an intervention as soon as they became aware of a nationwide genocide in Rwanda, the intervention forces would have arrived too late to save more than a quarter of the 500,000 Tutsi ultimately killed. Serving as a cautionary message about the limits of humanitarian intervention, the book's concluding chapters address lessons for the future. [Kuperman Alan J. May, 2001]

Doctrine of Pre-emption 'Preemption' is an anticipatory use of force by any nation when there is an imminent attack on that nation. The new Bush doctrine of Preemption which came up last year (2002) goes beyond that definition and beyond the generally accepted standard for nations. This Administration has broadened the meaning of 'Preemption' to include preventive war where force may be used without any indication that an imminent attack is to occur to ensure that a serious threat to the United States does not gather or grow over time. The argument is that the continued spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technology to states with a history of aggression, and also a few hostile nations providing breeding grounds for terrorism, create an unacceptable level of risk, and presents 'a compelling case for taking anticipatory actions to defend.…[continue]

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