» by Kamala Janakiram
International law prohibits violations of human rights and humanitarian law by
states against their own citizens. These duties are owed erga omnes1 and it is
therefore incumbent upon all states to respond, individually or collectively and
through legal and peaceful means, when these violations occur. However,
undertaking military action in order to intervene to end violations being
perpetrated against a civilian population, is not a straight forward issue. Indeed,
the prohibition of the threat or use of force is embedded in Article 2(4) of the UN
Charter and was reaffirmed in the General Assembly's Declaration of 'Friendly
Relations' of 1970 which outlawed in absolute terms, forcible intervention as a
countermeasure to violations.
Humanitarian intervention, for the purposes of this paper, is defined as "the
threat or use of force across state borders by a state (or a group of states)
aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the
fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the
permission of the state within whose territory force is applied". The debate that
surrounds NATO's unsanctioned intervention focuses on whether states have
the right to transgress the sovereignty of other states and use force in order to
protect the human rights of individuals other than their own citizens without
Security Council authorization. The scope of arguments on the subject range
from whether a new right humanitarian intervention is indeed lawful, to qualifying
NATO's 1999 military intervention in Kosovo as a blatant breach of Article 2(4)
and of the UN Charter.
This paper will explain why, increasingly, humanitarian intervention is being
used as a method to contain humanitarian disasters and what the implications
of unsanctioned unilateral intervention are. Crucial to the debate is whether
international law permits armed humanitarian intervention when exercised
without Security Council authorization.
© Kamala Janakiram 2004.
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