Define 'Humanitarian Intervention' and Explain How It Is Used to Justify Interference in Another State's Affairs

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Define ‘humanitarian intervention’ and explain how it is used to justify interference in another state’s affairs.

Throughout history, governments of countries or ‘states’ have found cause to interfere in other states’ affairs. ‘Humanitarian intervention’ is a means by which several states have justified this interference. The Iraq War in 2003 was caused by an unjustified intervention, and as a result, bore severe repercussions. Defining humanitarian intervention shows that even though the process is flawed, it is still a necessity. An understanding of human rights and how they have been violated in the past also shows the reason why the world requires governing committees, such as the United Nations.

Discussions of human rights place at its foundations, an emphasis on individual human rights. Although this may be due to the fact that the early literature was influenced by early literature was influenced by western libertarians; it is taken for granted by many authors. (Howard, 1992 p.82) The international community has a moral obligation to protect these rights, and that is why relevant international law and policies are implemented.

Human rights laws are a controversial issue for both democratic and authoritarian governments because of the impact they could have on cultural values. These laws do not take into account the rights of the majority; they mainly pertain to the protection of individuals or minorities. Some ‘non-western’ countries consider that the monitoring of human rights by committees could interfere with their cultural and national sovereignty. In 1997, the Malayan Prime Minister suggested the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be redrafted because he did not agree with being told how to run his country by the people. In particular, he was concerned about the reinstating of colonial rule. (Charlesworth, 2002 p.46)

Humanitarian intervention is also a highly debated issue. The justification of this intervention into other states’ affairs intensifies this debate. Humanitarian intervention is a relatively modern concept, and primarily has been developed by learning from mistakes made in the past. The procedures and processes in place are progressing but are not perfect.

Humanitarian intervention is best defined as “the threat or use of force by a state, group of states, or international organisations primarily for the purpose of protecting the nationals of the target state from widespread deprivations of internationally recognised human rights.” (Murphy 1996, p.11-12) Intervention does not imply simply invading another state. Humanitarian intervention takes many forms, such as economic sanctions, trade embargoes (Rhodesia 1965) or threatening the use of military force. The decision to utilise these methods needs to be made very carefully, as their implementation invariably causes tension to rise in the target state.

Pre-1945, international law was to “regulate relations between states”. (Davidson 1993, p.7) Separate states did not have any responsibility or rights to intervene in other states’ affairs. International law was considered a relationship between countries, not a relationship between a country and its population. It was the state’s responsibility to ensure that the human rights of its nationals were upheld. “Only an individual who was an alien could bring a case under international law, where the alien has suffered arbitrary treatment at the hands of the state agents.” (Davidson 1993, p.7) As was demonstrated by the Nazi régime in 1945, this arrangement provided inadequate protection for individuals.

In 1945, the United Nations Security Council was formed. The objective of this council was to provide the protection of “…fundamental rights and freedom” which had now become an international concern. (Charlesworth 2002, p.44) Articles were devised for states to pledge the protection of individual rights, therefore intimately connecting national and international rights. The...
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