Could military intervention in Ethiopia be justified on humanitarian grounds?

Posted on 26/12/2010


… if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how Should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of Human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?    – Kofi Annan

The subject of military intervention is not new sphere in the field of international relations. The debate of the military intervention mainly focused on legality and the rights of states to militarily intervene in affairs of another state in cases of massive violations of basic human rights guaranteed under international law.

 Although before the Cold War, there has been significant number of military intervention in different countries at different times, the 1990s were recognized as a decade of military interventions, starting with military intervention in Iraq for interest of Kurds and ending up with bombing of Yugoslavia from NATO.

A reader may worry of what is humanitarian military intervention? In what circumstance and scope should be justified for the intervention? According to J. L.Horzgrefe humanitarian intervention is “the threat or use of force across state border by a state or group of states aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied ‘. According to Anthony and Robert Beck for an action to count as forcible humanitarian intervention, it must be constrained to protecting fundamental rights and should neither have the blessing of the UN nor the consent of the government.

The traditional principles of sovereignty and self determination under the United Nations Charter are no longer smoke screen, in which countries of like Ethiopia could hide behind it to carry on its massive violations of the fundamental human rights. Indeed, sovereignty is not any more lincence to kill or carry massacre on country’s citizens. The UN charter does not ban the use of forces in cases when humanity is suffering. The legal argument of military intervention between international lawyers goes back to justification of the JUST WAR principle.

Furthermore, States have not only legal right but also moral duty to intervene where is there is a severe violation of fundamental human rights as the case In Ogaden. Allen Buchanan argues that “Plainly, the strongest justification for intervening…. The moral principle to which such appeals is among the most fundamental: the need to protect basic human rights.  Buchanan is right since the failure to protect basic human rights is morally unacceptable.

The Just War principle

 Peter Hough summarised the criteria of the just war as follows:

  • Just ad bellum (justice in going to war): (a) must be waged by a sovereign authority;(b) must be a just cause for the war; self defence or the enforcement of human rights;(c) peaceful means of resolving the dispute must have been exhausted; (d) must be likely to succeed.


  • Just in bello (justice in the conduct of war): (a) means used should be proportionate to the wrong being rectified; (b) unavoidable killing of non-combatants should be a voided; (c) wounded troops and prisoners of war should not be killed.

 The principles of just war are very strong when addressing gross violations of human rights. On the other hand, John Lock of natural rights would support the military intervention. John Lock expresses that government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty and property. He insisted that when government violates individual rights, people may legitimately rebel.  John Lock’s theory has inspired many throughout America, Europe, Asia and Africa.  

 India’s intervention into Pakistan, Vietnam’s intervention into Kampuchea and intervention of Tanzania into Uganda were all justifiable. According to wheeler, they should have been therefore seen as humanitarian intervention. Since the use of force was the only option to stop the killing.

In addition, the intervention in Iraq in 1991 and in Kosovo was justified by western countries as there were massive killing among civilians in both countries.  Moreover, what is happening in Ethiopia, particularly, Ogaden is a shock to conscience of mankind and International community must not watch but should act, and that “act must be Military intervention in Ethiopia to stop the gross violation of the human rights and human suffering.

by Abdullahi Warfa 
Friday, December 24, 2010


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