Juliette Lovius, Dip Teach, MA Human Rights
Curtin University, Western Australia, June, 2013
Since ancient times, human beings have been in conflict with one another. Those in authority have the power and opportunity to oppress people from within their nation. The question of states coming to the aid of another state’s citizens suffering under oppression is an old one. Voices in the early fifth century, such as that of St Augustine of Hippo (Holt, 2005) were acknowledging the complexities of war and the plight of the innocent victims of state-led violence. Even in those ancient times, as it is today, it is clear that from a basic moral perspective that the international community has a strong responsibility to act to protect citizens against the gross human rights abuses of their states. Refusing to intervene and turning a blind eye and doing nothing in the face of crimes such as genocide is incomprehensible, inhuman and immoral. Although the outworking of humanitarian intervention is a complex and politically heated issue, the responsibility to act is unequivocally clear. In this essay, I will argue that states exist in an international community in a variety of ways and, as such, have a responsibility to protect citizens against gross human rights abuses in any circumstances, but especially when those abuses are perpetrated by the mechanism they trust most, their own state.
To determine the scope of the claim of responsibility for the protection of the world’s citizens, it is important to define what is meant by ‘international community’. In the modern world, there are a variety of multi-national organisations, founded in both geographical and political distinctions. In the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, twenty-seven European countries are represented along with the United States (US) (http://www.nato.int). The European Union is comprised of largely the same list of countries, minus the US (http://europa.eu). The African Union comprises of 28 countries from that continent (http://www.au.int). Australia itself is a member of a number of international organisations and a signatory to international treaties including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Trade Organisation, the G20 and the United Nations (UN) (http://www.dfat.gov.au). In addition, there are a myriad of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), some operating with the support of their local government and some opposed. Despite cultural differences, clearly our modern world has a sense of global community. The term ‘international community’ defies political, religious or geographical definitions. The conglomerate of the approximately 193 countries (World Fact Book, 2012) of the world potentially constitute the international community. Page 1
The phrase ‘responsibility to protect citizens’, infers an accountability and the requirement for a response of some kind. While some may distinguish between duty and responsibility, for the purpose of this discussion, responsibility and duty are defined as synonyms of the same concept: a moral requirement to respond. Gross human rights abuses include such atrocities as genocide, near-genocide, forcing people into slavery, rape, forcibly removing children from families or people from their homes and systematic mass persecution.
When referring to the state of the citizen, the term is defined as the governing authority of the citizen’s country.
The international community clearly has a responsibility to act on behalf of citizens when gross human rights are being perpetrated against them by their own state, however the method used to intervene in these cases is a topic causing dissension within the international community. One of the most significant contributors to the discussion surrounding international intervention is...