Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law

By Reynolds, Margaret | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law


Reynolds, Margaret, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law. By Anne Orford (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 256 pp, $150.00 hb, ISBN: 0 521 804647.

This book is most timely because it focuses attention on the significance of international law and humanitarian intervention in trying to prevent human rights abuse. The author explores the fundamental assumptions that are held about international law and how it is used to justify or deny military action in preventing genocide and violations of human rights. It will be welcomed by students and academics trying to unravel the complexities of international relations and will also appeal to a more general readership concerned at increasing attempts to erode respect for international law within the framework of the United Nations and related institutions.

Anne Orford provides a very contemporary analysis throughout the book focussing on Kosova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and East Timor. She also challenges global patterns of imperialism and colonialism which continue to influence the response to conflict and reminds us how selective the international community is in determining priorities for military intervention. Chapter 1 provides an important introduction to the experience of humanitarian intervention in East Timor by the Australian Government after so many years of indifference to the needs of such close neighbours experiencing oppression. Chapter 2 highlights the ongoing debate between international lawyers about the tensions between state sovereignty and human rights' protection. The author argues for an alternative approach to international law which can better adapt to the fluidity of power and "the potential for politics outside traditional discourses of public authority". Chapter 3 explores some of the contradictions in our understanding of international political influence: "Surprisingly little attention has been paid to the presence and activity of international organisations and agencies in countries prior to the outbreak of violence, ethnic cleansing or genocide. …

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