Stopping genocide and mass atrocities – the problem of regime change
Griffith Asia Institute
6 July 2012
Should international action to protect people from genocide and mass atrocities every result in regime change? Recalling Pol Pot’s murderous rule in Cambodia, Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda, the fate of Liberians living under the rule of Charles Taylor, history teaches us that when states massacre and abuse sections of their own population, regime change is sometimes needed to bring the killing to an end. But some are rightly concerned that this could be used by unscrupulous governments to justify armed intervention for their own selfish purposes. In this post, I propose five potential checks to guard against such abuses whilst recognising that regime change may sometimes be necessary to save lives.
First, intervention must have a mandate from the Security Council. (…)
Second, states that champion intervention should be expected to demonstrate their humanitarian intent by acknowledging – through their words and deeds – a duty to prevent genocide and mass atrocities and respond in the most effective ways possible. (…)
The third test relates to the use of humanitarian justifications and their relationship to the known facts of the case. The simplest test of an actor’s intention is to compare what they say they are doing with what is known about the case. (…)
Fourth, the calibration of means and ends. Would-be interveners should select strategies that enable them to prevail without undermining humanitarian outcomes. (…)
Fifth, states that intervene in the affairs of others ought to recognise a duty to help the country rebuild its infrastructure, restore its autonomy, and re-establish its self-determination. (…)
We can be confident in thinking that interventions aimed at halting genocide and mass atrocities that satisfy these five conditions – Security Council authorization, recognition of humanitarian duties, an obvious connection between justifications and known facts, the calibration of ends and means, and evident commitment to long-term peacebuilding – are pursued primarily with humanitarian intent. We may also feel confident that in such circumstances the causal flow between protection and regime change is in the right direction – namely, that if it occurs, regime change is a contribution to the pursuit of protection from genocide and mass atrocities. (…)
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