Research Papers

Humanitarian Intervention Research Paper

The non-intervention policy is ripe for change not only in the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates but the whole world. For far too long the UAE has been at the forefront campaigning for non-intervention. The argument always put forward is that the sovereignty of a nation takes precedence over the enforcement of human rights (Salama, 2014). Ali Jasem, a veteran member of the Federal National Council, spoke the following to Gulf News: “While the UAE respects human right enshrined in the UAE constitution and the country’s commitments as prescribed in international treaties, it urges the international community to better value the sovereignty of states and the principle of non-intervention in their domestic affairs.” The policy of non-intervention is the cause of many of the problems the UAE faces today.

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From Jasem’s assertion, we can all see that the country is advocating for uninvolvement in the domestic affairs of other countries under the premise that sovereignty of a nation is more important than the human rights. I want to put a dent into that argument. Each of you knows that a nation is not made up of the laws that cage the citizens such that they are more like prisoners. A nation is made up of the very people whose rights are classified as secondary to the sovereignty of the nation. What do we gain by sitting back and watching while our Syrian neighbours are slaughtering each other en mass? What do we stand to gain while the regime is using troops to commit massacres in Syria? Shall we wait until every right is infringed, every child left without a father, every man killed or wounded, and every mother separated from her children before we act? How shall the sovereignty of Syria be of any importance while all these atrocities are committed right before our eyes? As a country in a position to help, we must not preach sovereignty at the expense of human life. Every life that is lost in Syria and any other part of the Middle East is lost because someone was in a position to make a decision but failed to do so. Every orphan is a result of a decision that was not taken, every death a life neglected. Guaranteeing basic human rights is not given enough emphasis and the will power to make it succeed. Jasem’s statement that “While guaranteeing basic human rights is a policy which all states and societies should support, no state is justified in intervening in another country’s internal affairs to assure the protection of these rights” reveals a huge stumbling block to the protection of the said rights. The UN charter and the international law prohibit the direct intervention in the domestic affairs of a country or the urging of international human rights organizations to interfere in the same (Alston & MacDonald, 2008). Rogue regimes have used this loophole in international law to exploit and harass their citizens safe in the knowledge that no outside help will arrive.

According to a documentary commemorating the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, more than 800,000 people were killed within less than three months (Ghosts of Rwanda, 2004). I find it hard to imagine that the genocide happened in the full glare of the international community. The United States of America was involved in peacekeeping prior to the genocide. The United Nations Peacekeeping troops were present in Rwanda as the violence raged. A faulty non-intervention policy prevented the troops from reigning in on the perpetrators of the violence. What was the result? Dead bodies all over the country, bitterness within the victimized group and shame to the rest of the world. I believe not one you would like to see a repeat of the Rwandan situation anywhere near us. We already have Syria as an example close enough to us. If we had intervened in good time, probably we would have a more peaceful Syria today. But look at the situation we all find ourselves in. Insecurity in Syria is dangerous for the entire Middle Eastern Region. Further, you can all see what happened in Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was threatening to tear Iraq apart. The intervention by the United States was rightly suspected of harbouring hidden ill motives especially given the fragile ties between Saddam and Washington. In hindsight the intervention may not have achieved the desired outcome because nearly two decades later, Iraq is still unstable. However, the grave human rights abuses that characterized the Saddam era have reduced significantly. Syria has been experiencing similar problems to those in Saddam’s Iraq, and has been in constant combat with rebels and subsequent aggravation of human rights abuses. An acceptable form of intervention is what the country needs to rise back on its feet. Up until now that has not happened and the situation is arguably worse than it was before the United States and Russia came in to compete at the expense of human life.

The concept of humanitarian intervention according to the United Nations Charter has brought more confusion as far as the use of force against another state is concerned. It alongside self-defence and the Security Council authorization has become a legal and legitimate reason for war. Most countries admit that humanitarian intervention is a justifiable reason for invading external borders, yet this too amounts to breach of international law which recognizes the sovereignty of states, and to which the UAE loyally subscribes. The UN Charter generally prohibits war among states (and Article 2 (3) of the Charter stipulates that UN members should settle their interstate disputes by “peaceful means.” The legal right to use force is expressly taken away from states and bestowed upon the Security Council, which is mandated with the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (Article 24). Bruno Simma and others (2002) argue that this resolution was reached by the great powers to centralize the enforcement of international law in their own hands and to prevent war by denying smaller states the independent legal channel to war.

Whether humanitarian intervention is legal or not is debatable. Recent events in different parts of the globe have recreated the tensions between humanitarianism and sovereignty. Thomas Franck (2002) confirms that debates about the status of humanitarian intervention has produced positions on either that are clearly identifiable. Disagreements about deep points of international law including the interpretation of treaties, how law changes in reaction to practice, and the meaning of compliance and the lack of it in specific cases reveal a consensus that humanitarian intervention is an important tool for states and international organizations regardless of its status as legal or illegal. So, despite the uncertainty surrounding humanitarian intervention, states still find a way to employ it when the situation so requires. The UAE should not be too rigid in its approach to international law either.

However, since the lesson of World War Two, the United Nations Security Council has not only failed to maintain international peace and security, it has also failed to act against aggressors and rogue regimes. Today, there are regimes which use lethal force against their own citizens while the UN watches. Still, there are leaders especially in Africa who commit atrocities against their people but no consequences befall them. The immediate former President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe was accused of perpetrating the Gukurahundi (Ndebele Massacre) between 1983 and 1987. During the massacre, the current president was a powerful minister while the Zimbabwean National Army executed civilians from the Ndebele ethnic group. Something could have been done, yet the world sat back and watched. Just seven years later Rwanda happened. I believe if the killings in Zimbabwe were stopped or prevented altogether, it would have been a lot more difficult for the Hutus in Rwanda to do a massacre of their own.

The immediate former President of Sudan has been traversing the world with an international arrest warrant on his head. Sadly, he has even visited Russia and South Africa without being apprehended. Yet, he is accused if committing crimes against humanity, subjecting Sudanese people to untold suffering. The president of Burundi pulled through a wave of protests demanding his resignation when it emerged he would vie for another term in office. In the chaos that ensued, hundreds of protestors were killed and hundreds more subjected to inhumane conditions in Burundian jails. Today the people of Burundi live in fear of arbitrary arrest from a regime they are supposed to embrace. The UAE should use the African examples to change their approach towards intervention. Evidence suggests that when rogue regimes are left alone with citizens and a weak international law preventing external invasion under any circumstances, the result is almost always abuse of human rights. Dr Abdul Khaled Abdullah’s assertion that certain countries and international organisations act outside their mandate under international law when they intervene in the internal affairs of states to protect human rights or stop genocide is typical of UAE government policy. However, of what benefit is it to the UAE or any other country when a neighbouring country is gassing its own citizens and murdering them?

The best way for the UAE to show its true nature, the characteristics of a nation that supports humanitarian welfare, is to act. There will be times when the rest of the world will grow tired of the unrest in their own nations. Dissatisfied citizens will take up arms and set up guerrilla bases in neighbouring countries to plan their attacks back home. This has happened before and is still happening today. The UAE is a young confederation of Emirates barely five decades old. It is a peaceful country where the security forces have full control of the territory. Simply sitting back and allowing bitter asylum seekers to group and launch attacks on their countries from the UAE territory is hardly a shrewd move. It is like standing between two enemy soldiers in a battlefield. Inevitably a bullet will pierce through your body, forcing you to become part of the conflict.

When the Republic of Somalia was falling, not every country thought it necessary to intervene until a time the situation got out of hand. Since the toppling of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, terrorists have taken advantage of the lawlessness in Somalia and used the country as a safe haven from which they attack perceived enemies, hijack ships to demand ransom as well as execute prisoners. It is not a situation anyone wants but it is happening and the only way to ensure no such situations arise in future is by making an early effort to stop it.

It may appear a blatant contravention of the UN Charter. It may be a breach of international law to intervene in another country’s internal affairs. But do we ever sit down to consider that these people subjected to torture and death could be resourceful brains that can show the world the way to go in future? The holocaust claimed the lives of six million Jews. Among the dead were engineers, doctors, scientists, economists and many other great brains that were lost while the rest of the world were trying to appease the German dictator of the time. What is there in a law, if it does not protect human life? The law should be a protector of lives rather than an inhibitor to the protection of the same lives. What happened with the United Nations Peacekeepers in Rwanda cannot be allowed to recur because the world is not ready to stand and count bodies when a little effort before the tragedy can save the situation. Someone only needs to take the first step. Not a step towards rebellion, but a step towards protection of the rights that the United Nations Security Council has failed to protect. It would be the beginning of a change to a policy that has caused delays in salvaging humanitarian situations not only in the Middle East but also in Africa and other parts of the world. The America-led invasion of Iraq in 1991 to flush them out of Kuwait could have happened sooner and Kuwait liberated faster had a Middle Eastern power been allowed to intervene as soon as Saddam Hussein showed signs of annexing the tiny nation.

The UAE can approach the Security Council and propose special amendments to the charter that would allow intervention when necessary. The position of the UAE as one of the more powerful, peaceful Gulf States would definitely assure it of an audience with the Security Council. If the point is clearly stated, nothing would prevent them from reconsidering the current stipulations. Moreover, it would give the Council a chance to remove the confusion regarding the legality of intervention on the basis of humanitarian protection. A carefully controlled and well organized intervention has the potential to cause tension between the intervening country and the supporters of the invaded government. This can be dealt with by subsequent proper treatment of all citizens to show that no ill motive was hidden and that the invasion was for their own liberation. After the healing process, the invasion will likely be viewed as a timely intervention from a well-meaning neighbour who is disturbed by the travails of the other party. It has happened before when Julius Nyerere of Tanzania marched into Uganda and freed the country from the jaws of Dictator Idi Amin Dada. When these changes are adopted and implemented, conflicts will be much easier to deal with.

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Ghosts of Rwanda[Video file]. (2004, April 1). Retrieved April 18, 2019, from
Salama, S. (2014, March 31). UAE presses for non-intervention in internal affairs of states. Gulf
News Government.
Simma, B. et al., (2002). The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary Oxford University
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Thomas M. Franck, Recourse to Force: State Action Against Threats and Armed Attacks
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (2002).