Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Civil War in Sudan: The Paradox of Human Rights and National Sovereignty

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Civil War in Sudan: The Paradox of Human Rights and National Sovereignty

Article excerpt


For more than a quarter century the countries of the Horn of Africa have served as a revolving door for refugees. Eritreans and Ethiopians fled to Sudan and Somalia; Sudanese, to Ethiopia and Eritrea; and Somalis to Ethiopia. Djibouti received Somalis and Ethiopians. Each country in the Horn, save Djibouti, has produced as well as hosted refugees. Today, civil strife in Ethiopia and in the newly recognized nation of Eritrea has ended and those who fled, some as early as the 1960s, are beginning to return home. In Sudan and Somalia, however, brutal civil conflict still continues. Large numbers of citizens from both these countries are internally displaced. Yet, because they have not crossed an international border, they are not classified as refugees and are refused the international protection granted those who do cross into another country. Throughout the world more than 25 million civilians are internally displaced. The international community, including the industrial democracies as well as developing nation states, is forced to grapple with the complex issue of conflict between national sovereignty and protection of the basic human rights of and humanitarian access to the internally displaced.

In 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War, while Kurds and Shi'ite Muslims fled Iraqi bombardments, the international community debated the legality of any form of foreign intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. Article 2 of the U.N. Charter clearly prohibits such interference: "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter."(1) Arguing that some degree of interference was justified in the face of the potentially brutal genocide of a people, European Community leaders proposed intervention to create safe havens for Iraqi Kurds under U.N. supervision in Iraq's northern territory. The creators of the concept justified it as humanitarian intervention based on the statutes of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In April 1991, intervention was justified and implemented. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 688 of 5 April 1991 condemned Saddam Hussein's repression and called on the international community to do what was necessary to conduct relief operations. This resolution "for the first time in history determined that humanitarian suffering within a given member state was a threat to international peace and security."(2)

On 16 April, invoking Resolution 688, President Bush announced to the nation and to the world:

Consistent with United Nations Security Council's Resolution 688,

and working closely with the United Nations and other international

relief organizations and our European partners, I have

directed the U.S. military to begin immediately to establish several

encampments in northern Iraq, where relief supplies for these

refugees will be made available... and distributed in an orderly


With the president's announcement and the subsequent unilateral intervention by the United States, the leaders of U.N. member nations ended the debate over whether the creation of such enclaves would interfere in Iraq's internal affairs and national sovereignty. Clearly, with this U.N. resolution and the Gulf War, President Bush challenged the right of nations to absolute national sovereignty. However, neither principles for the bases and extent of future interventions nor the means to be used were defined, as is evident in the cases of Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti.

Today, the situation in Sudan challenges the international community to act once more. For more than a decade, the sovereign government of this nation has been set on a course of eradicating a particular segment of its population. …

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