From Genocide to Regional War: The Breakdown of International Order in Central Africa


  • Christian R. Manahl


The 1999 crisis in Kosovo has been interpreted as the end of an era of international relations ruled by the UN Charter and the Security Council, and the beginning of a new world order [1]. NATO’s air raids against Yugoslavia in order to halt ethnic cleansing and oppression of the Kosovars was indeed the first major military intervention in violation of national sovereignty, which was justified by the need for the protection of human rights [2]. One would wish that the Kosovo intervention does not remain an isolated case where a conflict between the two major pillars of modern international law–national sovereignty and human rights–is resolved in favour of the latter. The establishment of an International Criminal Court of Justice and the indictment of President Milosevic for crimes against humanity are encouraging initiatives pointing in this direction. It remains to be seen, however, whether the industrialised countries on both sides of the North Atlantic will defend with similar determination the victims of dictatorship and ethnic hatred in other regions of the world. The relative indifference of the international community towards notorious human rights violations in various parts of the world (Algeria, Myanmar, Tibet, both Congos, Sudan, etc.) sheds some doubt about the willingness of the major global powers to defend the basic rights of life, freedom and human dignity wherever they are threatened. Admittedly, human rights are not and cannot be the only factor to be taken under consideration in case of a foreign military intervention. Nonetheless, “feasibility” and “tradeoffs” are ambiguous arguments when it comes to basic principles. To defend human rights manu militari only where it can be done with little casualties, or where it is economically not too damaging, is not only morally questionable, it also has a profoundly negative impact on the nature of international relations. Intervening where it is convenient, but not wherever it is necessary and possible, opens the way for an erosion of state sovereignty which will not be balanced by a corresponding revalorisation of human rights.