For Epistemological and Prudent Internationalism

For Epistemological and Prudent Internationalism[1]

B.S. Chimni is Professor and Chairperson, Centre for International Legal Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has been a Visiting Professor at Brown and Tokyo Universities. He has also held visiting positions at Harvard, Cambridge, and York Universities. He is a Vice-President of the Asian Society of International Law. He is also an associate member of the Institut De Droit International. His central research interest is to elaborate in association with a group of likeminded scholars a critical third world approach to international law (TWAIL).


The Harvard Human Rights Journal (HHRJ) has posed three significant questions for consideration at a time when social and political movements in several countries called for democratic reforms and were met with brutal repression by authoritarian regimes, leading to the intervention of the international community. The latest instance is Syria. The three specific questions that HHRJ has posed from the standpoint of internationalism are: Is there a necessary trade-off between capturing the complexities of a situation involving human rights in a specific country or region, and raising public international support for a proposed remedy? If so, where should that trade-off be located? How can one build an activist movement that is both adequately informed as to the issues, and broad-based? How do we build an international constituency against heinous crimes without falling into the trap of a Savage-Victim-Savior (SVS) mentality?[2]

These questions are posed on the supposition that the “global civil society” and “international community” should, in a spirit of internationalism, express active solidarity with opposition movements that are protesting serious human rights violations or seeking democratic reforms, including free and fair elections, or regime change, but without being tainted with the charge of humanitarian imperialism[3]. The latter apprehension can be traced to the fact that it is anticipated—as is clear from the reference to SVS mentality—that the mobilization of broad based public international support against serious human rights violations or pro-democratic reforms is to be organized primarily by western civil society and States for intervention, including possible military action, in non-western States. The underlying assumption is that without such expressions of solidarity, including through the extensive documentation of human rights violations by western international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), and the “international community” getting into the frame, local movements will find it hard to achieve their mission. This understanding raises a number of complex issues that need to be addressed. Since non-western peoples and States are particularly concerned about military action and other coercive measures for promoting human rights and democracy, including regime change, whether undertaken unilaterally or with the approval of empowered multilateral forums, these remedies are the reference point for the remarks to follow.

My endeavor will be to make out a case for epistemological and prudent internationalism. By “epistemological internationalism” I mean the need to correct the Eurocentric bias that characterizes information and knowledge produced by agencies of western civil society and States of cultures, societies and histories of non-western nations by taking into account their self-understandings as a basis for expression of international solidarity, including suggesting different modes of intervention to the international community[4]. The essential plea is for drawing on diverse sources of local knowledge as the foundation for arriving at an objective assessment of a particular social and political situation or an ongoing conflict. By “prudent internationalism” I mean the refusal to be ensnared by options for action framed by hegemonic States at times of crisis and the exercise of caution in recommending coercive international measures, especially military action, to the international community of States.[5]

The return of liberal paternalism

The need to plead the case for epistemological and prudent internationalism has arisen because of the return of the ideology of liberal paternalism in its late eighteenth and nineteenth century variant in the post-Cold War era. In this view, “the West has a duty or a burden to remake (or civilize) the uncivilized non-Western world in the West’s image for the betterment of ‘global humanity.’”[6] The doctrines of humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect (R2P) are manifestations of that conviction. It appears to a vast majority of third-world peoples that the West will not rest until the entire world is reconfigured to resemble western liberal democracies.[7] The desire of the West to transform the non-West goes beyond, as it always did, simple commercial and geo-strategic interests. But while the past resonates in the present, the attempt to civilize the non-West is being undertaken today in new circumstances. At a time when western dominance is being challenged by rising non-Western powers, the ideology of liberal paternalism represents an attempt to reassert that all that is good in human civilization is the contribution of the West; that it is the guardian of all laudable human values. What is perceived as being at stake is no less than the future of western (and therefore apparently human) civilization itself. The West believes that it is imperative to act before it is too late to construct a democratic and humane “empire of uniformity.”[8] The idea of cultural and political monism that informs such desire reflects the anxiety of a civilization that is slowly being rendered provincial. In contrast, non-western civilizations are more self-assured today. The non-West knows that it can deal with new forms of imperialism as it did with colonialism. It thus displays a quiet strength that is also rooted in the genuine belief that all civilizations, including western civilization, can promote the global common good.

The issue of trade-off

It is in the matrix of the return of the liberal paternalism paradigm that there is a need to consider the key issue of trade-off between capturing the complexities of a political or human rights situation in a specific country or region and raising broad-based public international support for those struggling for democracy and human rights. In my view, the key variables here are the timing of seeking broad based international support, the knowledge base on which it rests, and the nature of remedy proposed. In this section I undertake to explore in a preliminary way each of these factors. I elaborate these factors in the later sections devoted to further reflections on the ideas of epistemological and prudent internationalism.

The question of trade-off is crucially related to the timing of raising international support. When the aim of raising international support is to get the “international community” to act urgently, the trade-off is seen as unavoidable. It leads to placing in temporary abeyance the practice of epistemological and prudent internationalism. The “complexities” of the situation arguably involve such an array of social, economic and political variables that any attempt to predicate international support upon thorough and nuanced understanding and thinking through possible modes of intervention may lead to crucial delays and the resulting inaction of the international community at a critical time, with possibly terrible consequences. Therefore at times of crisis there is a tendency to go with the flow, especially when the print, electronic, and social media is full of horror stories of human rights violations. It is not seen as an opportune moment to question the lack of sophisticated understanding of ground realities to seek broad-based support. The priority is to stop serious human rights violations. But it could be argued that it is precisely in times of crisis that there is a need to be alert to diversity of local voices, for it is at such times that information and knowledge is selectively produced, disseminated, and used by social forces and States that hope to benefit through eliciting particular responses from the “international community.”

A one-dimensional portrayal of events, social processes, and movements at these moments can lead to international action that may do more harm than good. By rushing into supporting the agenda of liberal paternalism, forces of “global civil society” can become complicit with the politics of empire. It may therefore often be prudent to suggest a delayed response, unless there is an overwhelming consensus in the international community that genocide is imminent or ongoing, and therefore there is no time or need to undertake a careful assessment of the both the political and human rights situation. A good example is Rwanda, in which instance the international community did not act. Prudent internationalism essentially means leaving non-western societies to deal with their own social and political problems. It calls for a degree of empathy to be shown towards internal explanations of the social and political crisis. After all, non-western peoples are not without history, including a history of resistance to local elites and foreign occupations. The strength and spirit of ordinary people in opposing vicious regimes in non-western societies should not be underestimated.

Of course there must be efforts at informing the world about ongoing human rights violations and expressing solidarity with pro-democracy movements. There must be no hesitation in condemning brutal crackdowns by those in power. But the “global civil society” should not go with the view that “only the ‘international community’—rather than the people . . . may legitimately stage a revolution in the decolonized world.”[9] Such thinking only strengthens hegemonic forces in the international system. For in the final analysis democracy and human rights cannot be effectively promoted from the outside. Indeed, to act hastily is often to undermine the efforts of local movements in this direction as these are readily accused of being aided by international forces seeking to destabilize the country.

The extent of trade-off is also crucially related to the remedy proposed. Where the remedy in issue is military action, there is a heavy burden of proof on those proposing it, to show that the complexities of the situation and the necessity and consequences of military action have been the subject of careful consideration. Apart from the human toll military action may take, it can sharpen the social, religious, and ethnic divides between different groups in society making reconciliation difficult for coming decades.[10] International support may also encourage secessionist forces leading to the breakup of States, only to reproduce renewed cycle of oppression of minorities. The consequent outflow of refugees leads to great suffering and also placing a burden on neighboring States.

Where military action is proposed the factors that need to be taken into account in determining the extent of trade-off include: the identity and interests of actors that are to undertake military action, the likelihood that the regime in question may have received material support in the past from the same actors, and finally the possibility that the oppositional movement is being encouraged from the outside (e.g., through material assistance and supply of arms and other equipment) to precipitate a situation in which military action will be seen as a legitimate response. To be sure, the situation is not always a straightforward one. For instance, it is not easy to know whether local movements represent authentic protest or are being manipulated by external forces. The modes of external manipulation are so varied and sophisticated that only a careful sifting of fact from fiction can help capture the reality of the situation. In the absence of such analysis progressive forces of internationalism may play into the hands of hegemonic States that systematically calibrate their moves: both Libya and Syria are good examples. Through portraying a facile picture of the situation they may come to legitimize the coercive actions of these States as the belief grows that only such action can help protect human rights.

From the perspective of not embracing an SVS mentality it is important not to be trapped by options framed by dominant States. The choice often assumes the form of either supporting robust forms of intervention or backing an authoritarian regime committing gross human rights violations.[11] It is important to appreciate that ordinary peoples will inevitably end up as victims if the options are framed in a binary fashion. Thus, for instance, once an authoritarian regime is threatened with military action or through the supply of arms and money to an opposition movement, its paranoid leaders will come down with a heavy hand on the ongoing structures of resistance. In the case the military option is exercised, recent history reveals that non-combatants or civilians tend to become collateral damage. Finally, we also know that low intensity democracies can heave misery on peoples. Iraq is a case in point. Therefore “free and fair elections” is not an end that should be pursued at any cost.

It is crucial that alternative options are explored by global civil society. The aim of garnering broad international support should be (i) in the short term to (a) express solidarity with opposition movements through sensitizing global public opinion; and (b) show the problematic ways in which the options are framed by powerful actors and in this respect provide objective information to people and decision makers to assess their validity, and (ii) from a medium and long term perspective support those internal social forces that have a program for pursuing the objective of “development as freedom” as opposed to a neo-liberal agenda. The “third way” does not entirely rule out military action but in general advises restraint by reference to an audit of past experience which shows that the use of force rarely produces a truly democratic society (e.g., Iraq). The best way to help establish and sustain democratic societies is to essentially leave it to local movements to achieve these goals (e.g., Egypt).

More on epistemological internationalism

I have argued that a key variable that shapes the response to a situation of human rights violation is the set of facts on the ground, especially where military action or other coercive measures are proposed. In a plural society such as the international society a sovereign state tends to be moved by “national interests” rather than the global common good. Therefore the facts, values, and norms in issue inevitably yield multiple interpretations[12]. The interpretations advanced are a function of many factors, the humanitarian impulse being only one of them. There are equally economic, cultural and strategic factors at work. The resulting state of global indeterminacy is accentuated by the reality that there are no institutions that can provide authoritative interpretations of facts, values and norms, albeit admittedly in the sphere of human rights there are treaty bodies, offices and mechanisms that claim a privileged position. But these agencies or their apparatus are not often in a position to offer an authoritative view given constraints of time and the inability of those assigned the task of providing objective information to visit the places where human rights violations have taken place. In the circumstances the “global civil society” has to be wary of accepting the information purveyed by dominant States and the INGOs they fund or support. “Epistemological internationalism” calls for the decolonization and democratization of information and knowledge networks.

It is worth considering here the twofold response of Louise Arbour to the skepticism that is being expressed with regard to the information and knowledge used for international decision-making. First, she notes that “without overlooking the notion of presumption of innocence, and staying within the context of preventive action, it is fair to say that perpetrators always seek to obfuscate reality, to discredit both the information that points to their culpability and those who provide it, routinely demanding further proof.”[13] In the context of credible information being made available she mentions the historical instances of the Holocaust and Rwandan Genocide. She is entirely correct in these two cases. But there are other cases that have invited military action where there was insufficient evidence of gross violation of human rights. Thus, for instance, in the case of NATO intervention in Kosovo the accuracy of the information purveyed with respect to the extent of human rights violation has been questioned[14]. The scale of human rights violation appears to have been somewhat exaggerated to justify unilateral military action. In such cases the identity of the agencies that provide and analyze the information can be crucial.

With respect to international institutional infrastructure available to report on human rights violations, Arbour writes that “since impending genocide is almost invariably preceded by patterns of gross and systematic human rights violations, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is—or should be—the pre-eminent forum for early warning and prevention.”[15] But there is no reason to believe that an international commission of inquiry or investigating teams sent by UNHRC will be able to tap into diversified sources of information in a short period at a time of ongoing conflict and often without being able to visit the country concerned.[16] The faith placed in them often reflects an unwarranted epistemological confidence that is a function of relying on particular sources of information, albeit admittedly this is not always the case. These sources are sometimes simply interviews with those who have left the country or individuals living in the region. The information gathered through this process, supplemented by accounts produced by west-based INGOs, who in many cases receive funding from western government agencies (such as USAID), provide a particular view of the situation.[17] It generates the understandable suspicion that the reports produced, especially at critical moments (i.e., when the “international community” is to take key decisions) tend to lend support to the political agenda of western governments.[18] The cultural capital of established INGOs is used at such times to legitimize the decisions of hegemonic states. The money-power-knowledge constellation therefore calls for close scrutiny. It will have to be determined whether diverse local voices are adequately respected by the reports of INGOs[19]. In its absence the constant flow of reports from INGOs or even local NGOs funded by INGOs can lead to the accumulation of evidence that creates the climate in which coercive acts of intervention are perceived as necessary.

The information and knowledge produced by Euro-American think tanks, that at times are funded by government agencies or the corporate world with stakes in particular forms of intervention, likewise need to be scrutinized. Such information and knowledge is often aligned to the strategic objectives of western States and corporations. The role of the diaspora in portraying a particular understanding of the social situation at home also needs to be closely examined, as it does not face the consequences of its hyper-activism. Its understanding of the social and political situation is often frozen in time. Its activism can also come to be encouraged by state intelligence agencies seeking to justify a particular response of governments. Finally, the role of the powerful western media also calls for careful assessment. The endless beaming by the electronic media of selective and disturbing images can produce a vision of human rights violations that represents a grossly exaggerated picture of ground realities.

In short, there is a need to take into account diverse sources of information, in particular different local voices, in determining the human rights situation in any country. But it is not diversity of sources of information per se that is to be the aim of the exercise but to arrive at an objective understanding of the situation. The overall idea should be to ensure that information and knowledge is not produced either to serve hegemonic states or authoritarian governments, but to protect the interests of the people concerned. Epistemological internationalism therefore demands among other things that the violence of both the government and opposition forces be equally reported and condemned[20]. In other words, international support has to be mobilized with a sense of responsibility. But greater caution should be exercised to see that the voices of progressive civil society do not fuse with that of ideologues of empire and views of few expatriate dissidents with sectarian and vested interests. This is where the information and knowledge produced through the practice of epistemological internationalism allows western civil society to overcome biases in perception and thinking arising from particular historical experiences.

More on prudent internationalism

Epistemological internationalism facilitates the practice of prudent internationalism as “global civil society” can avoid joining the chorus for sanctions or military action by the very social forces and States that deliberately implement policy measures to precipitate events that justify such a response. Prudent internationalists take cognizance of the wider consequences of advocating particular actions to the “international community.” They have an eye on the future.

Thus, for instance, prudent internationalists do not endorse actions that destabilize the normative consensus in the international system against the use of military action. They take into account the serious consequences of undermining the existing regime relating to the non-use of force, which has over decades served the international community well. The carving out of ready exceptions in the name of protection of human rights can become “a part of an array of political weapons inimical to the Rule of Law, to the principle of equality of States, and to the practice of genuine democracy.”[21] The contention that military action can be “illegal but legitimate” is extremely problematic. Any attempt by a nation or a set of nations to impose its own moral standards on others through the use of force reflects a SVS mentality and undermines the stability of the international system.[22] In the view of prudent internationalists the promotion and protection of human rights should be pursued through agreed international mechanisms. As the International Court of Justice (ICJ) observed in the Nicaragua case, “[W]here human rights are protected by international conventions that protection takes the form of such arrangements for monitoring or ensuring respect for human rights as are provided for in the conventions themselves . . . .”[23]

But lest the hitherto critique be understood as suggesting that the international community should not permit military action under any circumstances it needs to be emphasized that it is legally permissible to do so to prevent imminent or ongoing genocide. However, such collective armed intervention must be authorized by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and only when certain pre-conditions are met: (i) there must be an overwhelming consensus within the international community of states to intervene; and (ii) peaceful modes of resolving the situation must have been exhausted. In allowing the use of force UNSC must also ensure that (i) there is proportionate use of force; and (ii) the rules of international humanitarian law are strictly respected[24].

Prudent internationalists should however not merely be concerned with the permissibility and consequences of unilateral military action. They should also work against the frequent use of unilateral coercive measures for the protection of human rights. In fact the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has urged all States to cease adopting or implementing any unilateral coercive measures that impede ‘the full realization of the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments, in particular the right of individuals and peoples to development.”[25] The rationale behind the UNGA resolution is the negative impact of such measures on the subaltern and marginal sections of the populations of States targeted, especially on children and women, as was the case in Iraq in the past and today in Iran[26]. Prudent internationalism keeps the interests of the vast majority of peoples in view.

In the context of prudent internationalism being firmly anchored in people’s interests, it is crucial to note that liberal paternalism is today not merely arguing the case for coercive international measures but also extended intervention over time, including building post-conflict societies.[27] Humanitarian intervention is no longer about the “international community” going in, remedying a situation, and leaving. Explaining the temporal dimension of the new concept of responsibility to protect (R2P), Arbour writes that “[T]he protection duty encompasses a continuum of prevention, reaction, and commitment to rebuild, spanning from early warning, to diplomatic pressure, to coercive measures, to accountability for perpetrators and international aid.”[28] What is more she argues that “[P]owerful States may be reasonably expected to play a leading role in bolstering appropriate measures of prevention, dissuasion and remedy across a geographic spectrum commensurate with their weight, wealth, reach, and advanced capabilities.”[29] But in an unequal world order she is privileging precisely the actors that have imperial aspirations. It is true that with greater power comes increased responsibility and powerful states cannot disregard it. But in that case there must be ways to ensure (i) that relevant decisions are taken in democratic international forums; (ii) that the responsibility is exercised in accordance with the rule of law; and (iii) that the concerned States are accountable for any violations of the relevant rules of law. However, today the decisions are taken in the UNSC: a body that is far from being democratic; the demand for expanding its permanent membership is yet to be accepted. On the other hand, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the UN, does not have the authority of judicial review over UNSC decisions to see if these are in conformity with the UN Charter. The result often is that powerful States exercise power without accountability.

Turning to the proposal of the international community assisting in rebuilding post-conflict States, this may become the cause of other forms of oppression. Thus, for instance, the institutional actors that constitute saviors at this stage include the international financial institutions that are well known to impose a neo-liberal economic agenda on the State concerned.[30] This agenda is more aligned to the interests of the powerful States that fund these institutions than to the interests of the people of post-conflict States. In countries that have been able to avoid an internal war to establish democracy it is important to support a self reliant and independent path of development. For as Fakhri rightly cautions, “international institutions may ‘steal’ the revolution in order to implement their own socio-economic programs.”[31]

This possibility raises the question of the larger goals of the social forces mobilizing international support for those struggling for the cause of human rights and democracy in the non-western world. There is the unfortunate tendency of western civil society to represent the domain of human rights violations as simply a relationship between predator post-colonial states, and its weird leaders, and the suffering populations. Removed from the scene is the role of dominant global social forces, international institutions and powerful States in embedding and sustaining economic and political structures that lead to the gross violation of human rights. This absence allows precisely those social forces, institutions, and States that are complicit in human right violations to turn up on the scene as saviors. Therefore it is important that the voices gathering broad based international support simultaneously challenge their policies. The internationalism of progressive social forces and organizations must be “based on a critical, informed, reading” of the “past record” of liberal internationalism.[32] The broad-based international support should therefore exclude, and indeed oppose, those social forces and States that support the economics and politics of imperialism. These social forces and States are in many instances non-western, as is the case in the Arab world today. There are countries such as Saudi Arabia that support the cause of liberal paternalism if only to claim an exceptional status for itself. Thus, for instance, Saudi Arabia along with Qatar moved the UNGA resolution of 3 October, 2012 supporting pro-democratic forces in Syria.


For those raising international support for pro-human rights and pro-democracy movements, and proposing the remedy of military action or other coercive measures to prevent violations of human rights, it is crucial to ask the question as to why large segments of the global civil society and most non-western governments oppose such forms of intervention.[33] Of course a possible answer is that these social forces and governments have vested interests in sustaining an unjust status quo; democratization of other societies is a threat to authoritarian regimes and their supporters everywhere. But there may be legitimate reasons for counseling prudence that emanate from the practice of epistemological internationalism. These include: the assessment that the facts in issue are exaggerated (for instance, the extent of human rights violations); the possibility that the opposition activity, including violence, is being encouraged from the outside through the provision of material assistance and arms to legitimize particular responses; the recognition that given the complex social composition of societies, ethnic or religious divides will sharpen if force is used on the behalf of one or other group; the considered view that the use of force cannot promote human rights in the long run as violence only produces a cycle of violence; the belief that the forces of intervention are pursuing economic and geo-strategic interests; the historical lesson that institutions of liberal democracy cannot suddenly take roots; and the conviction that the weakening of the norm of non-use of force will undermine the stability of the international order.

In addition to these reasons there is the recognition that the principal site of struggle for democracy and human rights is the nation-state, and that concepts such as R2P represent a form of revolutionary imperialism. It is therefore important not to be trapped into engaging with options framed by powerful States and the ideologues of empire (e.g., military action versus supporting an authoritarian regime). It is critical in times of crisis to provide an independent analysis of situations and options, especially keeping in view the future of the concerned society. From “epistemological internationalism” follows “prudent internationalism.” Keeping in view the interests of the vast majority of people in concerned States, especially its subaltern sections, caring social forces and States should advise against coercive measures unless absolutely necessary. For these do more harm than good.


 [1] I borrow the term “epistemological internationalism” and certain insights, especially the need and idea for producing “objective social knowledge” about non-western nations, from Branwen Gruffydd Jones. See Jones, Branwen Gruffydd From Eurocentrism to Epistemological Internationalism: power, knowledge and objectivity in International Relations at (2004) (last visited Aug. 27, 2012).

[2] A contemporary telling that approximates the SVS paradigm is this statement of Louise Arbour: The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) ‘norm squarely embraces the victims’ point of view and interests…Absent that State’s ability or willingness to discharge such obligations, the onus of protection falls by default upon the broader international community, which is then called upon to step in and help, or compel and – through appropriate authorization and in accordance with international law – even coerce States to put in place the requisite web of protection’. Louise Arbour, The responsibility to protect as a duty of care in international law and practice 34 REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 448 (2008).

[3] I find it more appropriate for my purposes to use the terms “global civil society” and “international community” in place of the expressions “activist movement” and “international constituency” used by HHRJ. The term “global civil society” is used to refer to: (i) NGOs ‘with a global or international frame of reference in their action and goals”; and (ii) social movements with ‘networks of action and organization to induce a global social movement for global justice’. Manuel Castells, The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance ANNALS, AAPSS, 616 (2008) at 84, 85. Another definition of “global civil society” that is useful is offered by Jan Aart Scholte: ‘global civil society encompasses civic activity that: (a) addresses transworld issues; (b) involves transborder communication; (c) has a global organization; (d) works on a premise of supraterritorial solidarity. Often these four attributes go hand in hand, but civic associations can also have a global character in only one or several of these four respects’ Scholte 1999 p.10. Jan Aart Scholte, Global Civil Society: Changing the World? CSGR Working Paper No. 31/99, May 1999 at It is important to note here that Western INGOs and think tanks tend to have greater influence in the global arena than their counterparts in the developing world. Turning to the term “international community” it is used for the purposes of this essay to denote ‘an imagined and meaningful community that has as its core the sovereign state in a world of proliferating international institutions’. Dino Kristiotis Imagining the International Community 12 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW 992 (2002). This imagined and meaningful “international community” serves contradictory ends depending on the use made of it. On the one hand, hegemonic states deploy it to legitimize actions undertaken to sustain dominance in the international system. On the other hand, the imagined “international community” manifests an emerging consensus on global values between sovereign states and in the “global civil society”.

[4] EDWARD SAID, ORIENTALISM (1978); Branwen Gruffydd Jones, Introduction: International relations, Eurocentrism, and Imperialism in DECOLONIZING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 1 (B.G Jones ed., 2006). Jones, supra note 1.

[5] Vijay Prashad, The Left and the People: Extending Hamid Dabshi’s Critique (2012) (last visited July 18, 2012).

[6] Martin Hall and John H Hobson, Liberal Internationalist theory: Eurocentric but not always imperialist?, 2 INTERNATIONAL THEORY 242 (2010)

[7] It is significant that “The ICISS [the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty] was funded in significant part by Canada and Britain, both of whom had participated in military action in Kosovo in 1999 that appeared to violate the UN Charter.” Simon Chesterman, Leading from Behind’: Responsibility to Protect, the Obama Doctrine and Humanitarian Intervention after Libya, NYU School of Law Working Paper No.11-35, 5 (2011).


[9] Anne Orford, Book Review Article: International Territorial Administration and the Management of Decolonization, 59 INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW QUARTERLY 249 (2010).

[10] Thus, for example, writing on the NATO intervention in Kosovo Belloni observes: “The outcome of NATO’s intervention is well known and barely needs to be mentioned: the victims of yesterday became today’s oppressors. Following the departure of the Serb military from Kosovo, ethnic Albanians could take revenge on Serb and Roma civilians for years of repression.” Roberto Belloni, The trouble with humanitarianism, 33 REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 472 (2007).

[11] Prashad, supra note 5.

[12] “In many cases, competing ‘facts’ and versions of events will be produced – often for the specific purpose of leading or misleading external opinion. Obtaining fair and accurate information is difficult but essential” (Emphasis added). THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT: REPORT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON INTERVENTION AND STATE SOVEREIGNTY, December 2001 ¶ 4.28, available at (last visited Aug. 27, 2012).

[13] Arbour, supra note 2, at 455

[14] “The situation in Kosovo was certainly not stable, but there was no clear evidence of the existence of a genocidal plan to kill and expel the province’s Albanian majority.” Belloni, supra note 10, at 461.

[15] Arbour, supra note 2, at 456.

[16] For example, the UNHRC’s independent international commission of inquiry established for Syria notes in its latest report that “the lack of access significantly hampered the commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate. Its access to Government officials and to members of the armed and security forces was negligible. Importantly, victims and witnesses inside the country could not be interviewed in person.” A/HRC/21/50 Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (Aug. 15 2012) at “Summary”; see also id. ¶ 5. The methodology that the Commission followed is spelt out in paragraphs 8 to 11. Id.

[17] This was for instance the case with UNHRC’s independent international commission of inquiry for Syria which “ . . . continued to review reports from Government and non-governmental (both international and Syrian opposition) sources, academic analyses, media accounts (including Syrian news outlets), as well as United Nations reports, including from human rights bodies and mechanisms.” Id ¶ 10.

[18] Belloni, supra note 10, at 468.

[19] This is not often the case. As Belloni observes: “From a practical standpoint, many humanitarian organizations are based in the West, employ Western individuals, and rely on Western public opinion for (at least some) support. Few humanitarian workers have a contextualized knowledge of the language, tradition, customs and habits where they operate. International staff is often oblivious to and detached from the local reality where they intervene.” Id. at 469.

[20] For instance, the UNHRC’s independent international commission of inquiry’s report on Syria is balanced, accusing both the government forces and the armed opposition of committing violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian laws: “The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture, had been perpetrated by organized anti-Government armed groups.” A/HRC/21/50 Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, supra note 16. But it is interesting that the western media did not report on the crimes committed by the opposition forces. The point here is not to justify in any way the horrific acts of the government of Syria but to stress the lack of balanced reporting during times of crisis.

[21] Ian Brownlie, The Politics of Human Rights in relation to the Rule of Law, 49 INDIAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW 1 (2009).


[23] I.C.J. Reports 1986, ¶ 267. In the aftermath of the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 the Group of 77 adopted a Declaration in the South Summit held in Havana in April 2000 that inter alia stated that “We reject the so-called ‘right’ of humanitarian intervention, which has no legal basis in the United Nations Charter or in the general principles of international law.” (last visited Nov. 28, 2012).

[24] According to the Commission on Responsibility to Protect: “The degree of legitimacy accorded to intervention will usually turn on the answers to such questions as the purpose, the means, the exhaustion of other avenues of redress against grievances, the proportionality of the riposte to the initiating provocation, and the agency of authorization.” THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT: REPORT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON INTERVENTION AND STATE SOVEREIGNTY, supra note 12, ¶ 2.27; B. S. Chimni, Sovereignty, Rights and Armed Intervention: a Dialectical Perspective in FAULTLINES OF INTERNATIONAL LEGITIMACY 303-325 (Hilary Charlesworth and Jean- Marc Coicaud eds., 2010).

[25] UNGA Resolution A/RES/65/217, 6 April 2011: Human rights and unilateral coercive measures (2011).

[26] Id.; J. Mueller, and K. Mueller K, Sanctions of Mass Destruction, May/June FOREIGN AFFAIRS 43-53 (1999).

[27] Such is the desire of liberal paternalists to reorder the non-western world that novel forms of intervention are being advanced. For instance, in the context of Syria, Anne Marie Slaughter had proposed a new doctrine of diplomatic recognition: “[G]overnments acting through the UN General Assembly, should interpret the ‘responsibility’ to protect (R2P) doctrine as a mandate to wield the power not of arms but of diplomatic recognition”. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Three ideas to end dangerous stalemate in Syria, FINANCIAL TIMES, May 17, 2012. She argues that governments can “withdraw recognition” and “grant at least conditional recognition to the governments and cities and provinces that are able to stop the killing by all sides within their boundaries. Local, municipal and provincial councils that are willing to pledge themselves to peace and public safety for all could receive official UN recognition and support.” Id. Thus, non-western societies have today become the testing ground for new doctrines that can advance the cause of western liberal paternalism. International law continues to remain hostage to the interests of imperialism. For that reason Fakhri calls upon Arab peoples not to be “passive recipients of international law.” Michael Fakhri, Arab Uprisings: Approach to Law, June 29 AL AKHBAR ENGLISH (2012). Instead the “Arab protestors should consider transforming international law.” Id.

[28] Arbour, supra note 2, at 448.

[29] Id. at 455


[31] Fakhri, supra note 27.

[32] Fred Halliday, Revolutionary internationalism and its perils, in REVOLUTION IN THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD 66 (J. Foran et al eds., 2008).

[33] For the position of non-western states see, for example, DECLARATION OF THE GROUP OF 77 SOUTH SUMMIT HELD IN HAVANA FROM 10 TO 14 APRIL 2000, ¶ 54, available at

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