Could there be any benefits from war? Jose Ramos-Horta argues that ‘’Sometimes a war saves people’’. This argument seems to be the basis for humanitarian intervention. The question of the legality of humanitarian intervention has been a pressing issue or hot argument for a while now. This is because the issue has to do with sovereignty which is one of the fundamental international relations norms. The argument is if the use of force is ever legitimate or acceptable as it has to do with the territorial sovereignty of states. First of all, this piece seeks to define or explain what is regarded as humanitarian intervention.

The word humanitarian basically means improving human welfare by alienation of poverty to save human lives. While intervention means one state(s) intervening in another state through the use of force.

Humanitarian intervention therefore is defined as intervention aimed at improving another state’s human welfare economically, politically and diplomatically through the use of force by a state(s).

The purpose of this piece is to discuss and argue for the legality of humanitarian Intervention based on the aim of humanitarian assistance and not based on conquest. This is because this controversial issue could be regarded as legal or illegal depending on the aim of such intervention. This piece would be structured by first of all discussing the background of the issue. This would be followed by the main body of the paper which would comprise of arguments for the legality of humanitarian intervention. Then we would discuss the arguments against humanitarian intervention.

The concept of humanitarian intervention advanced as subsets from international laws governing the use of force. This concept has been widely accepted and at the same time been very controversial. The argument that humanitarian intervention is illegal is based on the fact that the United Nations Charter makes no room for humanitarian intervention. In which according to the United Nations Charter under Article 2 states that every member state must respect the territorial integrity of each state and no state has the right to intervene in the domestic or internal affairs of another state. The only two exceptions made were only on the grounds of self -defense which is provided for in Article 51 of the Charter. The other exception is under Article 42 which states that the Security Council has the right to intervene in any state if it is necessary to bring back international peace and security.

The argument then is that if the U.N intended to allow for humanitarian intervention, it would have been stated in the Charter.  Arguments for humanitarian intervention claim that the main reason for humanitarian intervention is to help or assist those countries who are in need or suffer violation of their fundamental human rights. Those in favor of humanitarian intervention argue that humanitarian intervention is legitimate as it justifies the use of force for protecting inhabitants of a state from arbitrary treatment which exceeds limits in which the sovereign is to act. The basis of giving humanitarian assistance is regarded legal as long as the aim is not to destroy or conquer the territorial boundaries of a state argues Eric Adjei in his work “The Legality of Humanitarian Intervention”.

Arguments for the Legality of Humanitarian Intervention

The justification for humanitarian intervention is based on the definition that humanitarian intervention is the justifiable use of force for the purpose of protecting citizens of another state from abusive or arbitrary form of treatment. The legality of humanitarian intervention or exception for intervention which is under the United Nations Charter Article 42 states that the Security Council has the right to intervene in any country if such act is necessary to bring peace and security to the international community. Another argument that goes in line with the support or justification of humanitarian intervention is the just war theory. The humanitarian intervention policies are historically tied to the moral political theory of just war (bellum justum). This is defined as the ethical basis or moral justification for going to war as propounded by Jeff Mcmahaman in the New York Times of 11 November, 2012. The argument here would be that humanitarian interventions are made on the grounds or are based on ethically justifiable reasons which are not with the purpose of conquest or destruction but to give out humanitarian aid or defense.

One of the main reasons for the argument for humanitarian intervention is that it helps in reducing massive human right abuses and genocidal attacks by state actors. Since 1990 there have been an estimated number of 169,198,000 people killed by their governments. One example is Idi Amin of Uganda who abused the human rights of the people and performed many atrocities in his regime. Amnesty International described his regime as atrocious due to numerous rapes and torture during his regime. The Tanzanian Government intervened in order to give humanitarian assistance and help overthrow Idi Amin. Another similar case of humanitarian intervention is India’s intervention in East Bengali in which Pakistani armies violated the rights of the Bengalis by killing and destroying their properties which left about one million people dead. The Indian intervention helped to reduce this mayhem on a large scale. India’s representative to the United Nations said the basis of their intervention was because of the human rights abuses.

Another Argument for the legality of humanitarian intervention is to maintain regional and global stability. If the security of one state is threatened by genocide, the global and regional community is also threatened and so humanitarian intervention is sometimes necessary in order to maintain global security. An example is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) intervention in Kosovo in which airstrikes were launched as the United Nations Security Council expressed that the excessive use of force by the Serbian officers was seen as a threat to the security and peace of that region and resolved to take further actions to maintain peace.  Humanitarian intervention was also the basis for the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mission called ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group) in the crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990’s.

Arguments Against Humanitarian Intervention

One of the main arguments against humanitarian intervention is on the basis of the United Nations non- intervention policy which prohibits any state from interfering in the political and economic affairs of another state. Sovereignty is key and a very important issue in which the territorial integrity of a state should always be respected. Eric Adjei states that the reasons why most people argue against or don’t support  humanitarian intervention is because they feel that due to the balance of power system  in the 19th century that reduced wars, powerful states now use the concept of humanitarian intervention to enable them achieve their national interest or an act to protect their interests. An example of this is the U.S intervention in Cuba in the 1960’s in which the then U.S president justified the reason for intervention was based on humanitarian grounds as the people were starving and there was bloodshed. The honesty of the intervention was questioned as the basis of such intervention was seen as a political power struggle between the western and European powers. The United States feared that the Cuban government being a communist state and not too far away from the United States served as a threat to U.S security which was the main reason for the intervention.

Another argument against the humanitarian intervention is that sometimes this humanitarian intervention does more harm than actually providing humanitarian assistance that it claims to give or offer. This is evident in Libya where the United Nations Security Council Resolution established a ceasefire in Libya during Gadhafi’s regime to end the attacks on civilians which was regarded to constitute crimes against humanity. The peace mission failed as people argued that they left the condition worse than it actually was as the country suffers from ineffectual government administration, civil conflicts between extremist groups. The result of this intervention left about 400,000 people displaced and 25,000 killed during that period states Ashby Henningsen in her piece “Libya Crisis Failed”.

Another argument is the fact that powerful states only intervene in countries that are relevant in attaining their personal interests. This shows that they do not intervene with a genuine reason but to achieve their national interests under the guise of humanitarian grounds. Some people justify this reason based on the fact that the international community failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda as they did not care because they had nothing to gain in return. This was not the case in Libya where the U.S intervened in order to protect their interest in oil in Libya maintains William Duncan in his work “Sensible Thought”. The argument here is that interventions are done with intentions to pursue their national interests and back it up under the grounds of giving out humanitarian assistance.

Despite all the arguments above against humanitarian intervention, one cannot deny the fact that these humanitarian interventions though sometimes done in pursuit of national interest actually does help. The international community actually gives out necessary humanitarian aid to ensure the survival of countries in need of help. Humanitarian interventions could also help save millions of lives even if such interventions are done at the expense of the state’s national interests. Humanitarian Intervention should be legal and acceptable as long as the aim for intervention is to actually provide humanitarian assistance and not to conquer or destroy the territorial integrity of another state. Though sometimes these interventions are based on national interests, they help reduce starvation and killings in countries in need of humanitarian aid or assistance.

Esther kubai Awan