Intervention vs. Human Rights

Mireille Maddah, a double-major graduate who holds a B.A. in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the American University of Science and Technology (AUST) and a B.A in English Literature from the Lebanese University (LU). A TFAS (Fund for American Studies) alumnus from Charles University in Prague, she is currently a master’s candidate at Università degli Studi di Siena and peace fellow at Rondine Cittadella della Pace a Nobel-prize nominated peace organization located in Tuscany, Italy. She is a contributor to Women’s Republic and NewPeople magazine, a Thomas Merton Center publication.


The different arguments concerning human rights in respect to foreign policy give an insight to how states choose to focus on their security or sovereignty while keeping an eye on human rights, and it’s been added that not all states abide with the concept of stressing on human rights rather than seeking their own interests because most states are realist by nature, and plotting their national security aside for the sake of human rights application is something of a utopic aspiration that many states do not follow in realms of modern reality. Whether some of these states are realists, statists, or even relativists in their foreign policy – it doesn’t require the entirety of the international society to acknowledge a human rights violation once it occurred. For this matter, this piece will review how states behave when explicit human rights violations, especially genocide, are curated and whether it is acceptable for them to intervene under the label of these rights.

It is a known that no intervention can be applied in a coercive manner; meaning that violence is not an option even when the intentions are clear enough to help the sufferers of any possible outcomes resulting from the breaches made against them. International law scholars have made a distinction between the usage of foreign policy to influence the attitude of other states in opposition to the diplomatic interference whose main aim is to persuade another state to change its behavior; therefore, it is crucial for when any form of intervention is taken, it favorably shouldn’t overlap with the pre-determined foreign policy of the states themselves. It is true that each case is individualistic in nature, and no state undergoes the same circumstances as a neighboring one, however, what is also true is that no state would have a constructivist foreign policy – each state which regards its sovereignty as a priority cannot withstand and jeopardize its stance for the sake of intervention, no matter how inhumane the situation maybe. Not only does intervention stress upon the sovereignty of these states; but also, whether it is moral to take these initiatives or not and how sustainably enduring the idea of self-determination is, in respect to multilateral involvements within vast regional swarths.

Ever since World War 2, the rise of the humanitarian movement has gained significant prominence which was carried out by the Geneva Convention and the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights (UNDHR). The international community had begun to push the causes concerning infringement on these rights as an important point in trying to redefine how states treat their citizens and whether a consensus can be manufactured whose pillars stand atop the crux of human rights. The turbulent actions of war have left so many struggling implications that it is ought suitable to focus on the citizens’ own dignity rather than strategizing the next military maneuver. Lives have been claimed in such a huge number, about 60,000,000 or 3% of the 1940 population[1] to a point that alerted states that took part in this atrocious war, no matter where their geopolitical standpoints fell on the spectrum of aggression or defense. States significantly lost a grand portion of their human resources; therefore, as a form of retribution there should have been a merited focus on ensuring the lives and the continuity of the remaining nationals.

At the same time, the idea of intervening to safe a state’s wellbeing in terms of keeping their nationals alive in the most dignified way wasn’t the most attainable goal that any state would embark on. This is mainly mirrored by the states’ self-determination argument and the fact that each state has the legitimate right to rule, whether righteously or not, all of its citizens under its customary law, jurisdiction and lawful constitution. Intervening in another state’s political environment, especially in a coerced way, is a relative-sum game. Both sides will have to make a certain number of compromises if a morally acceptable outcome can be birthed as a result.

At the same time, the state that is initiating said intervention should pay attention to the number of lives it may destroy in the process of protecting others. Such clause raises the complexity of how humanitarian can an intervention be had there been a “known known” in the beginning before any prompted actions.

Arguably, the United Nations’ Security Council is a presumable party that can authorize any intended intervention from state’s protagonist side regarding a humanitarian situation that the international collective wants to endow its efforts in for the result of an immediate halt in the short term. The much stressing issue is the legitimacy grounds that the United Nations’ Security Council determines regarding matters of deciding how urgent a case maybe, and when will the right time be to intervene. Aftercall and in a surmised theory, the entire body of the United Nations is built on respecting and recognizing the autonomous standing of each state, where sovereignty is an absolute status for each state.

Nevertheless, if the intervention is yet to be determined necessary or not, then the issue of defining how atrocious a situation makes it more problematic, especially when tackling the subject of genocide. For a term that is not only controversial to use in sporadic anomalies, but also, to define in the right terms it is rather tricky to determine when does it occur and how adequate is it from other states to claim that they should intervene to stop mass killings. Some argue that actions should be always kept under close attention, so violations can never reach a catastrophic point of genocide and states shouldn’t wait for bodies piled high to intercede. Others claim that although infringements of human rights do exist but who (and how) is to determine whether such violations have crossed thresholds of genocide.

Nevertheless, a utilitarian view would authorize any humanitarian intervention because of a utopic outcome where peace, prosperity and possibly terminating illegally committed acts are solidified considerations. Such utilitarian standpoint concludes that no matter how unjustified an intervention maybe, if it is spirited within a peace-seeking agenda then this interference may plausibly fall under the benefit of the victimized state, its nationals and all there are at stake.

The subject of intervention will always be in dispute as long as the source of authority and standards of evaluation are yet to defined. Until then, trying to save human lives is always a something of a great concern on all levels of analysis, let it be a state or a solemn individual.

[1] World War 2 Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2017, from


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