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humanitarian pretexts and precedents

By Lobel & Ratner [from Znet] 

On September 23, 1998 Hitler wrote to Prime Minister Chamberlain that
ethnic Germans in
     Czechoslovakia had been "tortured," that 120,000 had been "forced to
flee the country," that the "security
     of more than 3,000,000 human beings was at stake," and that they had
been "prevented from realizing also
     the right of nations to self-determination." Hitler was laying the
basis for humanitarian intervention; a claim
     to intervene militarily in a sovereign state because of claimed human
rights abuses. Although NATO is
     obviously not Hitler, the example illustrates the mischief caused
when countries assert the right to use force
     on such a basis: it is often a pretext for acting in their own
geo-political interests and it sets a dangerous
     precedent–other governments can do the same. 

     Hitler's assertions were not the first time a county has used
humanitarian excuses to mask social, political
     and territorial goals. It is a frequent occurrence: whether is was
the Russians in the Balkans in the 19th
     century, the Japanese intervening in Manchuria or the United States
in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic,
     Grenada and Panama. International law professors Thomas Franck and
Nigel Rodely concluded in a 1973
     study that "[i]n very few, if any, instances has the right [to
humanitarian intervention] been asserted under
     circumstances that appear more humanitarian than self-centered and
power seeking." They further pointed
     out that the failure of countries to intervene when real humanitarian
atrocities take place--such as those in
     Nazi Germany, South Africa under apartheid, and Indonesia (and today
we could add the Tutsis the Kurds
     and others)-- should make claims of humanitarian intervention "highly
suspect." They conclude that
     countries have no legal right of humanitarian intervention under
international law.

     This historical background should make us very skeptical regarding
current U.S. and NATO claims that
     the war against Serbia is to stop "ethnic cleansing" or even
"genocide." President Clinton says the bombings
     were necessary to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe," to end
"instability in the Balkans" and to prevent a
     wider war."

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