The End of Innocence:
Humanitarian Protection in the
Recent events in Sierra Leone, Chechnya, East Timor, and Kosovo have shown once again the limited ability of the international community to respond adequately to major humanitarian crises. Despite the renewed commitment of states to abide by the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL), entire populations in Europe, Africa, and Central Asia have been displaced over recent years as a consequence of armed conflicts, or harassed and subjected to extreme forms of violence on political, religious, ethnic, and racial grounds. The international community remains mostly powerless in the face of these human tragedies. On those occasions where the international community has played a role, its actions have been limited, selective, and subject to utilitarian calculations. This has become all the more evident in recent military interventions for the protection of civilians.
The legal and moral basis for military action in these circumstances calls for a certain level of consistency and foresight that has often been missing, causing the legitimacy of international institutions engaged in this exercise to be questioned. This lack of legitimacy results in a poor image for international action that leads to further limiting of financial and military support.
The events of the past few years in particular press us to engage in a substantial review of the international community's approach toward humanitarian crises. In many ways, the traditional assumption of the primary role of states in the protection of civilians in IHL and human rights conventions has hampered our ability to conceive new strategies to enhance the protection of civilians in situations of armed conflict. The increasing role of nonstate actors, including armed groups and large corporations, must be recognized in our protection strategies. International organizations and states have failed to understand this critical development, limiting their capacity to act effectively