Grounds that should underlie Humanitarian Intervention.

In the last post, I spoke about the principles that should ideally underlie an endeavour of humanitarian intervention, and perhaps, manifest in any overarching legislation that aspires to cover the issue.

Primarily, an intervention on humanitarian grounds must pursue a “just cause”. A situation warranting intervention could be anything from a state representing the proclivity towards large-scale human rights abuses, genocide, ethnic cleansing, or a state where such things have already begun taking place, or a situation where the state has collapsed and its people are in danger. It is necessary to evaluate the facts particular to each situation - only when a state is found either incapable, or capable but unwilling, to rise to the challenge and to help its people, that external intervention would be justified.

Secondly, there should be an authority to authorize intervention. Prior to authorization, as much as possible, it would be vital to keep the analysis of each situation as objective as possible. It is not that a state evaluating the situation under the aegis of the Security Council should be totally apathetic to what its own interests are, while deciding whether a case is fitting enough to warrant intervention. A state may well do so, but must not allow its own vested interests to outweigh a genuine case made for intervention. In the event that the Security Council is either not able to act, or does not act quickly enough, the onus could fall on the General Assembly, which could deal with the issue in the course of an emergency situation, in keeping with the Uniting for Peace Resolution.

Thirdly, there must necessarily be a bona fide intention while intervening. There have been instances of intervention on humanitarian grounds have been perceived as nothing more than a quest for regime change - such as the Western Interventions in Iraq and Libya. There is every truth in that a state itself being an inanimate entity, acts through its leaders. Leaders represent the “intention” of the state they lead, which, for all practical purposes, is a psychological factor that cannot quite be culled out or understood in complete sense. There is no sure fire method to keep the intent on the good side. There is seldom possibility of complete detachment to the cause, and it is not a completely rigid rule that a state can indulge in humanitarian intervention only if it is completely disinterested. Being a psychological facet, intentions are often mixed. A state that is bound to intervene in another state is obviously putting in resources that do impinge on its economic abilities, and naturally, would be more willing to intervene when it has multiple reasons for it, and reasons that would, in some way, benefit it. The preponderance of probability is the guiding factor, and as long as the major intention is to avert disaster and alleviate the victims of the disaster, a state could be permitted to intervene in another state.

There should be a probability of success, or reasonable success in either bringing the crisis to a halt, or, in averting the further mounting of tensions. If there is every sign to suggest that the proposed intervention has a tendency to make matters worse and increase the conflict, it cannot be taken forwards. Sometimes, it is not possible to accurately predict the plausible outcome of intervention. In such events, it is essential to ensure that all activity in pursuit of the intervention keep close to permitted standards, and not descend into a catalyst that would worsen the situation on ground.

The intervention should be peaceful, using force only as the last resort. Non-military options need to be exhausted entirely, and only when they fail to achieve results, should force be contemplated. However, where the situation is so pressing, where danger is so imminent, and there is neither any time nor room to try every other measure first, force may be permitted to be used. To work effectively, the yardstick for permitted modalities of operation would necessitate a definitive and concrete enumeration of the constituents of the term “humanitarian” under the rubric of the law. In general parlance, the term implies any content comprising the right ethics, concerns, affections and actions towards one’s fellowmen. Naturally, using military force could wind up claiming more civilian lives than intended, and thus, a standard must be set.

If there is a need to use force, it should be proportionate force. The only acceptable form of force till date is the use of force in self-defence, countering an armed attack. Per Article 51, the force used as self-defence must essentially be proportionate to the force that was used in the armed attack. This is an oft-emphasized rule, be it in customary law or in judicial opinion. As to what is proportionate, only an analysis of the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case could prove useful in determining the quantum of force to be used.

The fact is that humanitarian intervention is here to stay- and instead of the attaining absolute good by trying to rid international relations of it, it makes more sense to allow the lesser evil of streamlined and legally regulated humanitarian intervention to continue. It is high time that a legal instrument be drawn up to govern humanitarian intervention. When humanitarian intervention is accommodated under the rubric of the law with a clearly enunciated ‘expected yardstick’ to adhere to, its practical implementation can be subjected to control, and can be streamlined to bring in good results.

Read Post 1 and Post 2 of this series.

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Tags: Force, Humanitarian, International, Intervention, Kirthi, Law, Use, of


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