Humanitarian Intervention: The New Missing Link in the Fight to Prevent Crimes against Humanity and Genocide?

Article excerpt


Over the course of the 1990s, the international community saw significant development and utilization of legal frameworks for mechanisms designed to prevent crimes against humanity and genocide. These mechanisms were used in over a dozen conflicts and allowed the international community to intervene to halt atrocities, punish those responsible for atrocities, provide redress for victims, and work together to prevent such crimes in the future. Utilized together, these mechanisms have the potential to be powerful tools against the perpetration of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Humanitarian intervention is a particularly crucial piece in this emerging mosaic of measures designed to prevent crimes against humanity and genocide. Since the early 1990s, there has been a Significant need for humanitarian intervention, a need that will likely continue well into the future. For a time, there was also a significant reliance on humanitarian intervention to address many of the worst intrastate and interstate conflicts.

Unfortunately, despite the importance of humanitarian intervention, the international community is less likely to undertake meaningful and effective humanitarian interventions in the coming years. Future use of humanitarian intervention is limited by both the failure to develop an adequate legal basis for the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, and by a number of geo-political factors that mitigate against any significant humanitarian interventions in the near future. As such, the international community has lost one of its key tools to prevent crimes against humanity and genocide, thereby weakening its overall ability to address such atrocities.


Humanitarian intervention can take many forms, including using military forces to help deliver humanitarian aid, protect humanitarian aid operations, protect and defend the victims of violence, and, in some instances, defeat the perpetrators of violence. (1)

Furthermore, effective humanitarian intervention consists of something more than simply deploying peacekeepers. Too often peacekeeping missions are not provided ample personnel or material resources or are restricted by a narrow mandate. The missions in Rwanda and Darfur are examples of the challenges such limitations create for interventions. Similarly, the deployment of peacekeepers after atrocities have occurred does not constitute genuine humanitarian intervention. The purpose of humanitarian intervention is to interpose international military forces into the conflict in order to either end the conflict or to provide for human security. To be effective, missions must be provided with the resources and mandate to meet that purpose.

Since 1990, there have been a large number of interventions, as well as a significant and increasing need for humanitarian intervention. During that period, there have been at least seventeen humanitarian interventions, including: northern and southern Iraq, East Timor, Bosnia, Somalia, and Kosovo. (2) Many of those interventions were effective in either halting or preventing further crimes against humanity and genocide, but many others were not.

In addition to those conflicts where the international community deployed forces in an effort to stop the conflict or lessen its consequences, there were many others that desperately required the intervention of the international community but did not receive it, including: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Moldova, Chechnya, and Uganda.

In the cases where the international community conducted humanitarian interventions, whether effective or ineffective, international approval for the interventions was not always easily won. In fact, the international community is rarely united on such matters. Even where the international community had clear evidence of atrocities, such as in Bosnia and Kosovo, members of the international community have grappled with how to respond, often stalling for months or years before conducting effective interventions. …