The UN’s Failure to Intervene
The UN’s Failure to Intervene
What is the UN? By definition the UN is an international organization that consists of 193 member countries whose aims are to facilitate international law, international security and to develop more human rights which would eventually lead to world peace. The UN was created in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations in order to prevent future wars and genocides like the World War II and the Holocaust from occurring again. In now serves as a medium of dialogue between countries to solve issues, regarding tension, economic and social affairs. The Security Council holds the highest power in the UN because they chose when and where to intervene in conflicts. There are 15 total member countries in the Security Council and 5 of which are permanent members. The five permanent countries of the Security Council, who can veto any vote taken by the others, are China, the US, Russia, the United Kingdom and France. The UN does not have an army and therefore uses the armies of member states to intervene in conflicts or genocides. According to law the UN has the right and responsibility to intervene in a situation where the rights of people are being abused, war crimes are taking place and where genocides are occurring. Now, the concept of the UN is a noble one, but the fact of the matter is, that the UN can and has already failed to heed its call, which relation to genocide and international security. Professor Payam Akhavan essay, The Ghosts of Rwanda documentary and Romeo Dallaire’s book entitled Shake Hands with the Devil are credible texts that show how the UN has failed to fulfill its purpose in the past. This essay will discuss factors that explain the international community’s failure to take decisive action during atrocities, genocides and crimes against humanity. This essay will also explain the challenges in expanding and protecting human rights.
Factors that are attributed to the failure of the international community in taking decisive action during atrocities and genocides are primarily the lack of interest, the UN’s soldiers lives could be a risk and many times the UN states that there is not enough evidence that these atrocities are occurring, therefore they do not and will not intervene. One factor that is shown in the Ghosts of Rwanda documentary the international community primarily the Western countries did not intervene because they had nothing to gain by helping the people in Rwanda, which is completely immoral and unethical. As also shown is the documentary, the US president, Bill Clinton clearly said that in was not in the “American Interest” to intervene in Rwanda, therefore implying that the US wouldn’t have received anything for helping the Rwandan population. On page 520 of Dallaire’s book is says that “if the country in question has any possible strategic value to world powers then everything from overwhelming force to covert operations is fair game, but if it is not then indifference is the order of the day.” This sentence is extremely true and shows another factor of non-intervention, which is non-interest. Rwanda is not rich, it doesn’t have natural resources and it is not technological advanced therefore no countries went out of their way to help them. Had it been another richer country then everyone would have helped which is sad and unethical. Throughout the genocide, US officials also avoided calling the situation in Rwanda, a genocide because if they had classified it as a genocide they would have been forced to intervene. When the international community fails to intervene and stop genocides like the Rwandan one is signifies that the UN is only a symbol, as stated in Dallaire’s book (Page 516). On page 516 of Dallire’s book it says “While most agreed that something should be done, they all had an excuse for why they should not be the ones to do it.” This excerpt highlights the forerunning factor of the international community’s non-intervention: excuses. Throughout the Rwandan genocide every country had an excuse of why they shouldn’t intervene. As shown in the documentary the US is a prime example of this, because according to American officials if they had intervened in Rwanda, it would have been the same as their Somali intervention, which is a complete lie because no one can foresee what the future holds, therefore their excuse was solely based on assumptions. Many countries did not want to intervene in the Rwandan genocide because they saw what happened to the ten Belgian soldiers and they did not want to risk their soldiers’ lives and gain nothing in return. International intervention is always about gaining something, which is a sad truth.
There are many factors that can explain the challenges that affect the expansion and protection of human rights. Some of these factors are that some countries do not have the same rights as others and they do not want to adopt more rights. In Professor Akhavan’s essay it on the second page it says “some have argued that not all human rights are truly universal”. That is true because every country has a different constitution which outlines its human rights for the population. It is difficult for a country to increase its human rights if the country doesn’t want to change and adopt new rights. The international community can only make recommendation to the country and cannot force more human rights on to them. Another factor is that challenges the expansion and protection of human right is that many human rights violations occur in countries where there is no rule of law. On the second page of Akhavan’s essay it says “domestic courts play an important role in ensuring that victims have effective remedies against governments that abuse human rights. But the worst human right abuses occur in States without the rule of law.” Human rights abuses happen more often in countries where there is no rule of law because there is no government pressure being applied to violators; this factor makes it extremely difficult to protect human rights. When there is no rule of law, the international community and international courts must put a stop to the violations, by either armed force or by punishing those who have violated the human rights. Lastly another factor that challenges the expansion and protection of human rights is that when human rights violations are occurring and the international community doesn’t intervene, they only make “suggestions” to stop the abuse of rights. As stated in Akhavan’s essay “intervention through armed force may be the only mean of protecting civilians against atrocities.” It has occurred many times where the international community has only used diplomacy to attempt to stop human rights violations. For example, as seen in the Ghosts of Rwanda documentary, Dallaire was forced to use diplomacy because he was severely outnumbered and couldn’t fight the extremists and because he wasn’t given orders to attack the extremists unless attacked first. If the international community had given Dallaire more troops the genocide could have been over faster and with fewer casualties. Sometimes intervention through armed force may be the only way to ensure the population’s safety and to ensure that their human rights aren’t being violated.
In conclusion there are many factors to consider when the international community fails to intervene in situations where genocide and crimes against humanity are occurring. The blame is not on one country but with the international community itself. The reason why the UN was created was to protect the people during atrocities. If the UN or its member states did not want to intervene in certain places like Rwanda because it was of no interest to them, then they should just abolish the UN altogether because they are being hypocrites and they are contradicting their purpose. There are also many factors to consider in the protection and expansion of human rights. It is up to the international community to apply more pressure to country’s who violate its population’s human rights. In order to protect and expand human rights the UN must intervene, even by armed force if necessary, when they know that the abuse of human rights is happening. I think that the UN could live up to its ideals by spending less time debating on intervention and by taking more action when it comes to genocides, atrocities and the expansion and protection of human rights, because it would ensure that something gets done before 800,000 people are killed like in the Rwandan genocide. It would also ensure that people have their human rights protected by the UN, especially if it is their government that doesn’t acknowledge and abuses their fundamental human rights.
Professor Akhavan P., (October 26th, 2006). International Human Rights Law From Rhetoric to Reality. Montreal: McGill University
Dallaire Roméo, (September 2003). Shake Hands with the Devil. Canada: Random House Canada.
Ghosts of Rwanda. Directed by Greg Barker. Produced by BBC and Frontline. (April 1st, 2004). PBS Video and Frontline Entertainment. DVD and VHS.