Humanitarian Intervention and State Sovereignty in Africa: The Changing Paradigms in International Law

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Moi University. Center for Refugee Studies
Moi University Press


During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, gross violations of human rights were committed against civilians, many of whom were tortured before being murdered using crude weapons like machetes and nail-studded clubs. Despite the publicity given to the genocidal activities in both print and electronic media world-over, the international community largely failed to protect the Rwandan people from the atrocities. The Rwandan genocide, its devastating effects, and the inability of the international community to prevent, limit, or halt the atrocities came at a time when many African countries were, and still are, engulfed in deadly armed conflicts, most of which are intra-state in origin. They also came at an extraordinary time in history when so many ideas, relationships and institutions, which hitherto seemed solid, had began to 'dissolve' rapidly. In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, debate has persisted regarding whether there are new emerging norms on when and how the international community can justifiably intervene to ameliorate and prevent domestic national conflicts and widespread human rights abuses. Until very recently, the question whether it can be permissible for the outside world to intervene with military force in the internal affairs of a sovereign country would have struck many as a non-issue. Sovereign countries, by definition, were not to be intervened in. A lawful war, it was explained, was a war in which a country sought to defend itself, or to defend a friend and ally against an attacking enemy. By contrast. going to war in order to change the way another country was conducting its affairs was therefore illegal. Then, in 1999, it began to look as if minds were changing. In that year a 'war of intervention' was messily but successfully fought over Kosovo, as a result of which the Balkans are a rather better place than they were before. A near-war of the same sort triumphantly achieved its purpose in East Timor, freeing a captured people from the rule of the Indonesian Army. This contribution examines the myriad dilemmas posed by collective international intervention, weighing the issue of state sovereignty and the concomitant doctrines of non-intervention and non-use of force against the perceived need for collective action to stop conflicts that often lead to bloodshed and human suffering. The contribution inquires if the so-called right or duty of humanitarian intervention has a basis in contemporary international law, and if so when, how, and by whom the right or duty may be invoked.



Kenya, humanitarian intervention, sovereignty


Kindiki, K. (2002). Humanitarian Intervention and State Sovereignty in Africa: The Changing Paradigms in International Law. Moi University Press.