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Intervention or not-intervention? Human rights or peace?

April 1, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte (thanks to Judith Kurnert for the article)

A previous post sketched out some of the pro and cons of an external military intervention or lack thereof in Libya and Ivory Coast. What remained unclear to me is what exactly is guiding principle of the international community. An article on the Spiegel makes more clear what is the priority of the international community after its intervention in Libya:

“The world community has shown that it values human rights over peace and that the era of the unaccountable sovereign state is over”

If such shift sends a signal to all dictators in the world that the brutal repression of anti-regime protests will not be tolerated anymore by the international communities, it poses also two important interrogatives and concerns:

1. the defense of human rights in Libya probably also imply the toppling of Gadhafi. What does it happen however if the opposition leaders in Libya will not be able to safeguard the human rights of civilians?

2. the rights of what civilians is the international community concerned about? In my view in fact an intervention for example in Ivory Coast to back up the winner of the elections Ouattara would probably upset those civilians (which are not a small minority) which see in Gbagbo their legitimate leader. And I am not sure that their rights would be safeguarded by the pro-Ouattara militias. My point here is that the identification of those civilians, which we are trying to defend, is too often arbitrarily chosen by external actors.

Any thoughts on this?


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ricardo Habalian permalink
    April 4, 2011 3:18 am


    I have a feeling that this is probably not the most appropriate way to pose this question. I wonder if there really was a shift between these two options (peace and human rights). Was there ever an “era of the unnacountable sovereign state”? I ask this question because I think Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Cuba (during the so-called Cold War) and, say, the support given to unpopular military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, etc. (not exactly the most respectful of human rights) should suggest that this is an abstract fiction. That is, there are many examples in post-WWII history where political outcomes have not been the result of national forces alone (and unless one adheres to some kind of verbal mysticism around the word “state”, colonialism is another example).
    This makes me think that the “human rights vs. sovereignty” dichotomy is not exactly what keeps NATO political leaders up at night when these situations come up. A better dichotomy that comes to my mind is “will the outcomes of intervention be beneficial or not? (both nationally and internationally)” or, more radically, “is there a side whose victory I am interested in”?
    I don’t mean to say that the principles of international law are completely vacuous but that they should not be overestimated.
    Following this line of thought, I will try to start answering your questions:

    1. After the US intervened to stop the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, tilting the political scale towards the Taliban, well……………. Are there reasons to think it would be different in Libya? (this is not a rhetorical question)
    2. Take the military dictatorships in Chile or Argentina, vastly supported by the US. Which groups were protected? (I think sometimes we forget that this wasn’t so long ago!). The important things here are, first, that support was given even after brutal “human rights” violations were perpetrated by these governments and second, that the criterion for choosing the groups was not exactly arbitrary.

    Khan wrote about a very enlightening mental exercise that I think summarizes what I mean to say. It goes something like “suppose that, after elections are held in a country, the losing side does not recognize the winner and decides to go to civil war. If every voting adult has a weapon (or if weapons are randomly distributed among the population), then the results of the civil war will be more or less the same as those of the polls. That is, the more numerous faction will win the war and assume leadership of the country. But weapons are not controlled by most people, they are controlled by specialized bureaucracies (the armed forces)”… (to complicate things even more) And the most technologically advanced weapons are not controlled by citizens of that hypothetical country but by the industrially advanced capitalist countries.

    I would like to know what you think about this.

    • Jessica Nabongo permalink
      April 9, 2011 1:35 pm

      I think you hit the nail on the head Ricardo. There is not an arbitrary selection of which side we back up. If you just look at how the west reacts to various events in strategic countries we can understand. For example, you never once heard Obama or Clinton asking Mubarak to step down. They simply said that they support the quest for democracy. The US sent diplomats to Bahrain to “support” the royal family. This is a country that is crushing the desires of people who simply want a constitutional monarchy. Then you have Libya, where Obama and Clinton have been unable to shut up about the necessity for Qaddafi to step down. It all boils down to who we have relationships with or who we want to have relationships with. (“is there a side whose victory I am interested in?” as you said)

      In keeping with Libya, it is clear that western countries who have relations, i.e. Italy and Britain were quiet at first about trying to throw Qaddafi off of his post although now they are both in line with NATO.

      Look at Cote D’Ivoire, the only western country to intervene is France, why? because they have the biggest interest in their former colony.

      At the end of the day it all comes down to a lottery of birth. Those of us that were born in rich countries or born into rich families in poor countries will be okay, those who were not become immigrants or are forced to live less than ideal lives in their own countries. Furthermore, if we want to decrease the amount of terrorism in the world we should probably decrease income inequalities between and in countries as well as stop these senseless invasions of other peoples countries, in the name of human rights, but which eventually leads to civilian casualties.

      I hope my thoughts weren’t too choppy. lol.

  2. Festus chea permalink
    April 4, 2011 7:12 pm

    Shameless u.n. Your mission in cote d’ivoire is almost complete to get gbagbo the man who incurred the wrath of france by being elected by his people twice. First in 2000 and again in 2010 in what is term today as a disputed election .whether dead or alive your main reason of being in cote d’ivoire is to put ouattara in and take gbagbo out. Congratulations for all the propaganda u.n.


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