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Human Rights Take Priority Over States’ Rights

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Eight hundred thousand Tutsis were killed in just one hundred days, and the world watched some of the most graphic footage seen since the Holocaust. People could not pull away from their television sets, unable to believe it was happening. “Never again,” they had pledged, and yet, here it was in 1994. As the Hutus enacted a massive genocide, attempting to eliminate the Tutsi minority from Rwanda, the world did nothing. The United Nations stalled while the United States refused to have another failure as in Somalia where three American peacekeeping soldiers were dragged through the streets. Belgium was already pulling its peacekeeping troops from the state. The Tutsis’ human rights were clearly being violated. Why did no state intervene and force the Hutus to stop this ethnic cleansing? There was no intervention because states have rights too: political sovereignty and territorial integrity. This battle between states’ rights and individual rights is at the heart of the debate on humanitarian intervention.

Humanitarian intervention is not the same thing as humanitarian assistance or aid; it is not peacekeeping, but peace enforcing. It is an uninvited military operation by one state in another state, in which the intervening state cites mass suffering of the host state’s nationals as its motivation. This sort of intervention is debated amongst scholars and professionals in the international relations community. The debate has three sides: realist, legalist, and moralist. Realists believe that intervention should only occur if it is in a state’s national interest because if not, the host state’s rights are violated. Legalists argue that humanitarian intervention is only acceptable when it is legal according to international law. M...

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