Rwanda and the Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention

Rwanda and the Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention

Rwanda and the Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention

Rwanda and the Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention


Why the international community should have intervened in Rwanda.

Kassner contends that the violation of the basic human rights of the Rwandan Tutsis morally obliged the international community to intervene militarily to stop the genocide. This compelling argument, grounded in basic rights, runs counter to the accepted view on the moral nature of humanitarian intervention. It has profound implications for our understanding of the moral nature of humanitarian military intervention, global justice and the role moral principles should play in the practical deliberations of states.


In 1994, approximately 800,000 Rwandans were sought out and killed simply because they were Tutsis or Tutsi sympathizers. The tragedy of the Rwandan genocide has since caused many to question the international community’s choice not to intervene. Much of the discussion over the moral nature of humanitarian intervention has revolved around the moral permissibility of humanitarian intervention and the right of sovereign states to be free from outside interference in their internal affairs. In the discussion that follows, it is argued that not only are there circumstances under which humanitarian intervention is morally permissible, but that in Rwanda there was a moral obligation of humanitarian intervention. The existence conditions for such an obligation are identified and a reconstructed normative framework to govern the practical deliberations of states is offered in which the lessons learned from the moral critique inform the institutionalization of the reconstructed normative framework; completing the transition from theory to practice.


Before turning to the substantive discussion, it is helpful to start with a brief account of the Rwandan genocide. Between April and July of 1994, approximately 800,000 Rwandan children, women, and men were slaughtered because of their ethnic ties. Lt-Gen. Romeo Dallaire and Philip Gourevitch add to that number countless others who were forced into refugee camps where they were subjected to violence, starvation, and disease. Most of the killing was carried out, not by the military, but by citizens in machete-wielding mobs. Individuals were betrayed, and often sought out and killed, by those they knew. For example, in one . . .

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