The Observer Blog

Just another WordPress weblog

A Bit O’ Ideological Conflict: Something to Think About

with 9 comments

Before delving into the specific pragmatics of genocide occurring around the world, I think it would be beneficial to identify the international community’s moral dilemma in deciding a policy toward these situations.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” – Article 28, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Despite these articles contained within the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it remains a wonder that genocides continue to occur around the world, and that the United Nations refuses to intervene. So the question is obviously why?Why doesn’t the United Nations intervene, militarily or otherwise? It seems blatantly obvious that they should protect human rights. While this may seem like the most tempting option, it is always important to consider the other point of view, and to consider said view, we must first identify the major conflict.

So we know that the United Nations has a moral obligation to protect global human rights. It’s in their documents, and it’s part of the founding intent of the organization in the first place. Nevertheless, in the magical world of moral obligations there is always one which is arguably just as important, or even more important, than the obligation currently being discussed.

The question then becomes, what is currently trumping the United Nations’ obligationto protect global human rights? As Mallaby of the Washington Post reported in March of 2007, “Hu [Jintao] called on nations to respect the sovereignty of Sudan.” That is the policy stance the United Nations has currently adopted.

Both points of view have legitimate logical arguments behind them, and they both merit examination.

Keep in mind that this is just a brief synopsis of the points. Hopefully this short introduction will inspire you to learn a little bit more about the issue.

The Argument for Human Rights: Well, this shouldn’t be that difficult. Naturally, the purpose of government is to protect human rights. It’s really the reason government is formed. Most political philosophers including John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Plato, and John Rawls would agree with this. So, government loses its value when it fails to protect the rights of the people. The purpose of a state is to protect rights, and government is the tool used to accomplish that goal. When government fails to protect rights, the tool is broken. So, it merits replacement or repair. Simply put, when national sovereignty comes into conflict with human rights, sovereignty loses its value because the purpose of sovereignty is to provide a mechanism to protect human rights.

The Argument for National Sovereignty: These arguments are a little different . The human rights argument is deontological, meaning the results of actions are irrelevant. In deontology, morality depends on why we should do things, not what happens when we do them. The pro-national sovereignty argument is the opposite; it’s consequentialist, meaning that the results of an action determine whether or not it is moral. So typical “sovereigntists” argue, first of all, that national sovereignty protects autonomy and national identity. Making national boundaries arbitrary by allowing international intervention homogenizes the world, and cultural uniqueness dissipates. Second, it’s a slippery slope. If we let the international community intervene in such situations, what’s to stop them from extending the same principle and intervening on a whim? Most convincingly though, this side of the argument cites empirical evidence to show what happens when a foreign power steps into another country. Examples include Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Cuba, etc…Basically, the point is that things just get worse when the international community intervenes, and nothing is solved, so there’s really no point in going in at all.

So which option is right? I’ll leave that for you, my readers to decide. I invite you to post what you think, and I shall respond accordingly…


Written by Sultan Ahmed

November 20th, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Genocide Watch

9 Responses to 'A Bit O’ Ideological Conflict: Something to Think About'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'A Bit O’ Ideological Conflict: Something to Think About'.

  1. Both options are right; human rights are paramount on a local level, but national sovereignty is correct on a global level.

    The crux of the argument for human rights is that every individual is due these rights and, when they are violated, the social contract is no longer legitimate; this is completely true. However, the only implication of this is that the citizens of that nation are now allowed to revolt and seek social change on their own, and so their own defense on a local level is completely justified.

    Once we get to a global level, however, we must consider each nation as an individual entity which is due certain rights just as an individual is due human rights. If the global community interferes with one nation, it will have two major implications:
    1. It will cause a destabilized situation within that nation and, once the intervention is gone, the nation will possibly revert to the former regime or further; by intervening, we have not changed the views of those within who were willing to disregard human rights, we simply changed the current regime, and so those views will resurface eventually.
    2. It will cause a slippery slope which will allow us to intervene for infractions upon human rights such as murders and their consequent punishment, or infractions upon civil rights. If we allow one intervention, the other which is very close will be allowed as well, and so on. While this does not change the justness of the original action, it is an implication we must consider in the evaluation of what actions to take.

    As a result of these two points, interference from the global community in situations of human rights would largely be unjust, for it does not respect the sovereignty of that nation, but the individuals within the nation are justified in taking whatever retaliation they desire — which could involve asking for specific external aid.

    Nicholas Tietz

    30 Nov 08 at 4:20 pm

  2. While national sovereignty should be respected, it is also the responsibility of a government to if not provide security for it’s people, then to not be responsible for killing them. I understand your argument that it is an internal problem, but then should we not have intervened in the holocaust? These situations often become international problems whether we want them to or not in part because refugees from these countries seek safe havens in nearby states- such as visible in the hundreds of thousands of refugees that fled Sudan into Chad. The neighboring countries are suddenly responsible for providing for an enormous amount of people due to the inability and recklessness of another government. As a result, this is not an internal problem left up to the people within that state.

    If you look at the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) ( created by an independent international commission dealt with exactly this issue. While it laid out very specific guidelines for intervention, such as only allowing military intervention when all other approaches have failed to prevent the slippery slope, it’s conclusion was that when a government does not protect it’s people, it becomes the responsibility of the international community to step up and protect them. This is obviously a much more simplified version of the 100+ page report, but that’s the very quick summary.

    While I do agree that intervention can be overused, I think that it is more unjust for a government to murder hundreds of thousands than for the international community to intervene.

    Sasha Klyachkina

    30 Nov 08 at 7:27 pm

  3. Good stuff, people are finally responding, and here is my response to both of your arguments:

    1. Your claim of potential destabilization is denied both empirically and through a moral argument. Consider the example of Kosovo, where U.S. involvement did in fact contribute to stability and substantially quelled the violence. Because you propose instability as a universal, i.e. it will occur every time, this one example is sufficient to give grounds for intervention. Nevertheless, the increased violence is only initial. In the long term, intervention has been shown to quell violence. The moral argument is that the alternative is far worse (and perhaps leads to even greater instability). Yes, the people are justified in a revolution, but that is not always possible in the modern world. In fact, because resource scarcity is a direct contributor to genocide, it is hardly ever possible. As such, it becomes the international community’s obligation and responsibility to step in. And finally, the U.N. has to decide between its two separate obligations here when they come in conflict, and its obligation to protect rights wins out.
    2. The slippery slope argument ignores potential checks. The recent actions of China on the Security Council with regards to the situation in Sudan are direct proof of this. Furthermore, intervention has been occurring for over half a century, and yet, no abuse has occurred on the multilateral action front. Granted, unilateral action has been abused, but that’s a different issue.

    You claim that halting intervention in these situations logically means we should not have intervened in the holocaust, and that genocides have become international issues, particularly because of the refugee situation.

    1. The holocaust is not the reason foreign powers intervened when it came to Germany. In fact, the mass murder of Jewish citizenry began to occur long before international involvement. Rather, Hitler’s military aggression into other parts of Europe as well as Japanese aggression caused the allied powers to become involved. Sad as it may be, the holocaust was not the primary consideration, if it was one at all. The problem is that modern genocides are not coupled with foreign invasions. Bashir is not attacking his neighboring countries, neither is Cambodia, nor the militias in the Congo. As such, one has to wonder whether foreign powers ought to get involved at all, as there is no military aggression across borders. While there is the moral issue to consider, generally speaking, foreign involvement leads to an initial spike in violence. Furthermore, initial intervention causes a foreign power to be committed for an extended period of time, as these conflicts do not resolve themselves quickly. As such, there is the consideration of whether the country in question ever truly gets its sovereignty back.

    2. Just because refugees spill over borders, that doesn’t mean it’s an international issue that merits military involvement. While the countries may need assistance when it comes to dealing with the influx of people, that doesn’t warrant military invasion of the country.

    With these points in mind, I think it is important to note that I am firmly in support of international intervention when it comes to genocide. A country killing its people does not deserve autonomy, and it is the responsibility of those with the means to do so, to step in. The international community is further held morally culpable if it doesn’t intervene. To quote Bishop Desmond Tutu, “If you remain neutral in times of oppression, you take the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Irrespective of whether or not the intervention has a legitimate chance of success, the people within the country deserve that opportunity, and it is the responsibility of the U.N. to provide that opportunity.

    Sultan Ahmed

    2 Dec 08 at 6:33 pm

  4. While my views are definitely not the most popular, I believe genocide has its place. Keep in mind, these are just my thoughts on the subject matter at hand. While the masses sleep, a deliberate genocide is being finalized. You can ride the wave of ignorance: eat, sleep, and work day and night to ‘protect your fellow countrymen from the iron firsts of the government’; to do so is to turn a blind eye as to what is really going on. The tyrannical nature of our “leaders” (if you can call them that) and humankind as a whole has left us to our vices with homicidal ideation a front-runner. It is within our blood to fight, to win, and mostly, to come out on top. The need for even a false sense of superiority seeps through our pores, leaving us powerless to our own kind. History is entirely cyclical; sadly, amidst thousands of pens running dry of their ink as they lay warning to paper and paper to novel, hindsight is entirely 20/20, and forever shall be. Until, as a race, we can collectively learn to embrace rather than completely discredit genocide, it will just be something more to fight about.

    Andrea Paolucci

    2 Dec 08 at 6:35 pm

  5. Great! Thank you very much! I always wanted to write in my blog something like that. Can I take part of your post to my site? Of course, I will add backlink? Regards


    13 May 09 at 11:15 am

  6. I think I will try to recommend this post to my friends and family, cuz it’s really helpful.


    16 Jun 09 at 8:22 am

  7. How soon will you update your blog? I’m interested in reading some more information on this issue.

  8. Thats very good to know… thanks

    Kelli Garner

    30 Sep 09 at 11:54 am

  9. Great site, I have added this page to my social bookmarks

    Bait boats

    28 Nov 09 at 3:49 am

Leave a Reply