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The use of force in international law
The use of force in international law

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3.3 Beyond humanitarian intervention: some of the critical points

Apart from those issues regarding the legality of humanitarian intervention which you considered in the earlier part of this course, one more question arises: what happens in the aftermath of humanitarian intervention?

The matter of the ‘continuity’ of humanitarian intervention, or rather, the question of who bears the burden of responsibility for its effects, is significant in the context of the discussion regarding the dilemmas of intervention. The debate usually oscillates around the issues of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state, where intervention is allegedly needed. Much less attention is paid to the long-term view of intervention as an act that impacts on the lives of individuals, and not always in a positive sense. Some of the aspects include:

  • Human rights obligations – the premise of intervention is that the human rights of individuals are being violated in a grave manner and that the state does not fulfil its human rights obligations towards its citizens. Who, in that case, should be responsible for securing human rights? Can (or should) an intervening party play this role?
  • Security – military intervention increases the risk of potential harm to individuals. Military operations carried out by the intervening state(s) on the ground increase the level of violence in the region and expose civilians to the high risk of suffering serious harm. Furthermore, violence may continue long after the intervention has finished and, as such, constitute a threat to the security of individuals. Who should be responsible for ensuring the long-term, post-intervention security? Is it at all possible? 
  • Migration – as a consequence of the use of force and the threat to security attached to it, many people become refugees or internally displaced persons. What about protection of such persons? Should the burden of protection rest on the intervening party? Do human rights obligations apply extraterritorially?
  • Liability for human rights violations committed during humanitarian intervention – the impact of intervention may have tragic consequences resulting in further breaches of the human rights of individuals. Godec (2010, p. 235) refers to two examples of such harms: acts of sexual violence and post-conflict sex trafficking in Kosovo.