Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Between Non-Intervention and the Protection of Human Rights: A Moral Argument in Defense of Humanitarian Intervention

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Between Non-Intervention and the Protection of Human Rights: A Moral Argument in Defense of Humanitarian Intervention

Article excerpt

1. Introduction (1)

Humanitarian intervention represents the infringement of a state's sovereignty through the use of force by an external agent--one state, a group of states, a regional or global organization--with the purpose of preventing or putting an end to grave violations of the human rights of the citizens' of the state whose sovereignty is infringed, without the consent of the said state. (2) Although the topic has been subject to arduous debate among philosophers, much disagreement over its moral permissibility persists. The high incidence of grave human rights violations the world has witnessed in its recent history forces us to take the problem of humanitarian intervention seriously and come up with a solution to the following question: is humanitarian intervention ever justified, and if so, when? The purpose of this paper is to provide a moral defense of humanitarian intervention.

The philosophical scholarship on humanitarian intervention suggests that solving the moral problem of humanitarian intervention comes down to making a choice between preserving sovereignty and the corresponding right to non-intervention and protecting human rights. I contend that the alleged necessity of this choice is false and propose a different strategy. The view I defend proceeds from an understanding of the moral puzzle humanitarian intervention presents us with, by exploring the philosophical underpinnings of sovereignty and the corresponding norm of non-intervention on the one hand, and those of human rights on the other. I argue that humanitarian intervention is morally justified when human rights violations are purposive, systematic, extensive, and preventing or ending them represents an emergency, because it aims to restore a genuine form of sovereignty, consistent with its moral rationale. Also, given the multiple risks it presents, the justifiability of humanitarian intervention is further constrained by a series of requirements.

The novelty this view brings to the debate is to show that responding to the moral challenge that humanitarian intervention presents us with does not require giving up on either state sovereignty with its norm of non-intervention or on human rights, but instead coming to a proper understanding of their philosophical underpinnings, which are ultimately compatible. Also, it shows that the question of the justifiability of humanitarian intervention cannot be answered in either/or terms, but needs a more nuanced discussion. The sovereignty-centered argument defended here imposes special constraints on the conduct of humanitarian intervention that derive from its purpose, that of restoring a genuine form of sovereignty.

From a methodological standpoint, this paper represents an exercise in "institutional theory": it takes some facts of the world--such as the existence of an international system of sovereign states--as pre-theoretical and begins the argument from there (3).

The paper is structured as follows: in Section I, I present and discuss the main concepts and theories that constitute the theoretical body of the paper with the purpose to outline and explicate the puzzle of humanitarian intervention; in Section II, I provide a critical overview of the state of the art in the debate over the justifiability of humanitarian intervention; Finally, in Section III, I develop the sovereignty-centered argument, which represents a better equipped justificatory account of humanitarian intervention.

2. The Puzzle of Humanitarian Intervention

In order to be able to spell out the puzzle of humanitarian intervention, a more thorough understanding of the main concepts from which it is composed is required: sovereignty with the corresponding norm of non-intervention and human rights.

One way to conceive of sovereignty is, following John Simmons, as a body of rights that legitimate states have a claim to. These can be divided into three categories, "rights over subjects"--"a set of rights held over or against those persons who fall within the state's claimed legal jurisdiction", "rights against aliens"--"rights claimed against those persons without the state's jurisdiction", and "rights over territory" "rights held over a particular geographical territory (whose extent largely determines the scope of the state's jurisdiction)". …

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