Rwanda and the Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention

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In 1994, nearly one million Men, women, and children were slaughtered because of their ethnicity. The tragedy of the Rwandan genocide has caused many to question the international community's choice not to intervene. I use the Rwandan genocide as a means of discussing international morality and the role of morality in international relations.

The first half of my project focuses on humanitarian intervention as an issue of global ethics. I argue that the international community, as a collection of duty-bearing states, had a moral obligation to intervene in Rwanda. To defend this proposition I must first establish the conceptual possibility of global ethics. In that vein, I begin by arguing against various skeptical arguments made by communitarians, relativists, and political realists. Having made the conceptual room for global ethics, I then develop a weak moral principle in support of the moral obligation of humanitarian intervention by identifying the set of conditions under which no one could reasonably deny that such an obligation exists. I next explain how states can and why they on occasion do bear that obligation. Lastly, I argue that the Rwandan genocide fulfilled such conditions; as a consequence, not only was intervention permissible, it was obligatory.

The second half of my project is concerned with the role moral demands should play in the practical deliberations of states. Many international relations scholars contend that questions of intervention are largely determined by the right of nonintervention which precludes other states from considering reasons for action that would require intervention. Against such scholars I argue that the role the right of nonintervention played in the practical deliberations of states during the Rwandan genocide was, and remains, unjustified. In the alternative, I argue that we ought to adopt a rebuttable presumption in favor of nonintervention. Such a rule would serve the same goals as the right of nonintervention, but without the unjustified preclusion of moral reasons for action. I conclude that the presumption of nonintervention would have been rebutted during the Rwandan genocide, and that the international community ought to have intervened.