In my last post, I spoke about the grounds that should underlie any policy of Intervention on Humanitarian Grounds. This post will address the overlapping ideals of the Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention.
In 2005, a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect had evolved at the behest of the UN General Assembly. Five years before that, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan made his agitated plea to the General Assembly: If humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica, to gross and systematic violations of human rights?
In response to his own plea, Kofi Annan explained that in such situations, national sovereignty needs to be weighed and balanced against individual sovereignty – which meant, in effect, that individual sovereignty had, and continues to take primacy over state sovereignty. This paved the way for the principle of the Responsibility to Protect. The norm contends that a state has a duty overruling the individual sovereignty quotient, to protect its people from mass atrocities. The norm further adds that the International Community has the duty to protect a people from mass atrocities. When the state fails to do the needful, the international community has to intervene to protect the suffering masses. The application of R2P, as it has come to be known, has put a caveat on the abusive use of national sovereignty by dictatorial regimes as a shield to holding them accountable for gross violations against their own people.
But R2P is still a norm, and Humanitarian Intervention has not been legalized. Where does R2P end, and where does Humanitarian Intervention begin? Are they different, or are they the same?
The UN Charter in article 2 (4) prohibits as a general principle the use or resort to force to resolve problems or disputes between states. Article 51 of the Charter is the only exception to article 2 (4) of the Charter where a state acts in self defence. Nevertheless, the rights of a country to intervene to protect its citizens abroad have been invoked in many instances since 1945 to justify the use of force in some instances. On the one hand, such intervention is acceptable if undertaken with the consent of the state concerned. But, there have been instances where intervention has been forceful and without the authority of the countries concerned – such as the Belgian Intervention in the Congo in 1960 during the Stanleyville civil disturbances presumably to protect Belgian citizens, the intervention by France and Britain in Egypt in 1956, the Stanleyville intervention in 1964 by Belgium and the US, the US intervention in Dominican Republic in 1965, the Israelis in Entebbe airport in 1976, US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the US invasion of Panama in 1989, US landing in Liberia in 1990 to evacuate US citizens and Belgian, French and US landing in Kanombe Airport in Rwanda in 1994 to evacuate their citizens .
The radical individualization of international law, the gradual birth of the individual as a subject of international Law has slowly allowed for a liberal interpretation in favour of authorizing humanitarian intervention. This perspective views an attack on the citizens of a country abroad as an attack for the purposes of the exception to article 2(4) of the UN Charter to be invoked. Though, technically, the protection or rescue of nationals in danger or threat of danger abroad does not strictly fit as an exception to article 2(4) of the UN Charter, it is justified under the principle of necessity. It goes without saying, thus, that the intervention should be limited to the mission and commensurate with the means needed to rescue them.
Considering this, one can say that Humanitarian Intervention derives normative acceptability and permission from the “Responsibility to Protect” principle. That national sovereignty should be no basis for a country to indulge in unabashed autocide and mass atrocities against its own people is a premise that is oft cited when humanitarian intervention is taken up. This principle is morally valid in theory. National sovereignty does not, and should not provide a dictatorial regime any protection to unleash mass atrocities against its own people.
However, reality shows that it would be naïve to claim that foreign intervention is prompted by Western leaders’ concern about protecting civilian lives, and solely by this responsibility to protect. States are driven by many concerns that include a cost-benefit analysis of sorts, explaining what they can gain from an intervention – since they certainly are investing plenty into the process. This can easily lead to a state of hypocrisy and double-standards regarding military intervention. People have asked of the US, for instance, why they chose Bosnia and Slovakia but did nothing for Rwanda.
This has a lot to do with the fact that neither R2P nor Humanitarian Intervention has any legal streamlining behind them. R2P being a norm, gives way for policy and national vested interests to overrule pressing concerns elsewhere. No legal sanction for either principle implies a scenario that is bereft of any constant yardsticks for practice to adhere to. Until the two principles are co-opted into a legal document that authorizes and regulates their use in International Practice, this state of discretion-based conduct will prevail.