Does Somalia qualify humanitarian intervention.By A.Warfa

by Abdullahi Warfa Friday, August 19, 2011

 Introduction The recent transnational waves of Arab demonstrations against their governments in the Middle East and North Africa which was and still is aimed at achieving political and civil rights in a democratic way and the continuing televised pictures of hundreds of people dying, particularly amongst children and vulnerable groups in East Africa resulting from hunger caused by the extraordinary draught has raised the issue of Global Ethics in terms of the rights of victims to expect aid and relief and the moral responsibility of the world to step in and provide assistance.

The grave violations of fundamental human rights of Libyans have prompted members of the International community to militarily intervene and as the protests and State violence continues in Syria and Yemen they also are increasingly becoming more credible candidates for such similar intervention. In this article, I will discuss the issue of Military intervention in Somalia in terms of the positive rights that morally obligates others to assist people and States in need.

The main object of the article is to show that Human rights are universal and global in scope and cannot therefore be restricted by culture, geographical boundaries, national or the social barriers. Such human rights approach provides a moral and rational ethic bases for military intervention that is cosmopolitan. Thus, establishing the necessary theoretical foundations for such intervention is essential to begin with.

 Defining Humanitarian intervention in affairs of another sovereign state will pave the path to the theoretical framework for global ethics on the basis of positive rights, a definition that explains the meaningful and scope of humanitarian intervention ethics that remains within the debate of international relations.

 According to J.L. Holzgrefe “Humanitarian intervention can be defined as the threat or of use of force across state boarders by state (group of states) aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied” (1) Viability of Military Intervention into Somalia It may seems to be a crazy idea to raise the ethical question of intervention with regards to Somalia in the wake of the disastrous 1993 joint American and United Nations intervention that was Operation Restore Hope as that event is still fresh in the memories of many Somalis and the American Public and politicians. As such while not totally clear, The American attitude and its foreign policy towards Somalia reflect their uncertainty and their reluctance to commit ground troops.

However, not intervening is not an option for the international community as to ignore the reduplicating crisis in Somalia would be a grave moral and human rights failing. Under the current situation, Somalia is unable to stand by itself and needs the assistance of international community in terms of building infrastructures, disarming all armed individuals and pockets of Violent insurgence, building good governance, restoring rule of law, rebuilding economy, social and cultural systems and engaging the community in peace building in Somalia. The plight of children, elders and helpless women starving to death is a fundamental violation of human rights that must be addressed under human rights Universal Declaration, human rights law and international actors should intervene, firstly to foster the immediate victims of the famine by creating safe place for relief activities and secondly to enhance existing capacities. However, calling on humanitarian military intervention is not an easy task, as the argument for and against humanitarian intervention is subject to the most heated debate amongst moral theorists as well as international law proponents.

One of these debates is the one between Act-utilitarian and rule – utilitarian. Interestingly, Act-utilitarian argues that individuals are the subject of moral evaluation, and, accordingly an action is just if its consequences produce more benefit (happiness) than that it cost. For Act-utilitarian, a conduct is not good or bad, it is its effect that matters and if the consequences lead to an increase in our aggregate well being, then that action is just. An example is Tanzania’s intervention into Uganda was just because the benefit (saving more people) was more than the cost of the intervention. Similarly, India’s intervention into Pakistan in 1971 was necessary since there were severe violations of human rights. Therefore, under this argument if the international community wants to intervene to save the lives of the desperately suffering Somali people then their intervention will be legal and arguably morally binding. Was Kosovo not the same? USA and NATO took action to stop the widespread violations of fundamental human rights of Muslims?

 On the other hand, rule -utilitarian is based on the claim that only a specific class of actions (rules, norms) is the object of moral evaluation. By this, they claim that an action is just if it satisfies a set of principles whose general adoption results an increase in general well beings more than adoption of any other set of rules. Saying that, it was not morally acceptable for Tanzania to intervene into Uganda because costs were more than benefits (more people died than it saved). Accordingly, the same (More deaths and displaced people) might be expected to result in intervening Somalia and hence it is bound to be illegal and unconscious to allow that to happen. (2) Another argument of morality made by Natural law theorist is the claim that as matter of fact as human being we have certain moral duties towards each other by merely being human being and this common humanity dictates common moral duties including a humanitarian intervention.

Joseph Boyle writes that “Our moral obligations to others are not limited to people with whom we are bound in community by contract, political tie, or common locale. We are obliged to help whoever (sick) “(3) The Dutch Jurist Hugo Grotius argue that where a tyrant “should inflict upon his subjects such treatment as no one is warranted in inflicting”, others may exercise a right of humanitarian intervention. (4). other scholars who are champions of intervention include Walzer who is also communitarians, and he argued that a duty of humanitarians is just because it fits the inherited culture of political communities everywhere. (Michael Walzer: just and unjust war). (5) However, not everyone approves of the intervention, for example, Samuel P.Huntington referring to USA’s intervention into Somalia in 1993 stresses that “it is morally unjustifiable and politically indefensible that members of the USA armed forces should be killed to prevent Somalis killing one another”.(6) This view jeopardizes the western notion of cosmopolitanism that in its philosophical agenda transcends the national boundaries of states in favor of global justice, conflict resolution, global governance and wider issues of other ethics. Other non- interventionist, particularlist, who is less hostile is Allan Buchanan who claims that states should concern themselves more with the well being of their own citizens over the well beings of nameless persons in distant lands. Seeking Legality of Humanitarian intervention into Somalia Article2 (4) of United Nations Charter states that “All.. Refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against territorial integrity and political independence of any state, or any other manner inconsistent with purpose of the United Nations.”

Moreover, Article2 (7) of the Charter indicated “Nothing in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” To some international lawyers the meaning is clear and that is the end of the story. For others there is room for interpretation of those Articles and its scopes.(7) For Somalia though, None of these debates are needed as the TFG primarily would well come any initiative and move that aimed at getting a mandate from the Security Council authorizing an intervention in Somalia in interest of the deteriorating human condition in Somalia. When state fails to fulfill its responsibility to protect and feed its people, the Right to basic needs is violated (Right to basic needs such as an adequate food, shelter…) therefore, morality mandates outside states to act for providing victims the necessary protection and assistance because individuals are the moral concern of both Human Rights doctrine and Cosmopolitanism that constitute in its adopted ethical principles the Universality (all human being should be treated equally, without discrimination), and Generality (all principles should apply to everyone, wherever, and whenever). Since it is difficult for International Relieve Organizations to operate within Alshabab’s territorial area to distribute aid and the allegations of the massive looting of the humanitarian food by militia believed to be loyal to the Government. It is importantly becoming necessary to create a save heaven (humanitarian corridor) in the interest of the starving Somalis. And this should involve a degree of military intervention by members of International Community, mainly from Islamic countries.


1. J .L. Holzgrefe,(2003) Humanitarian intervention debate, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge university printing.

 2. Smart and Bernard. (1973), Utilitarian for and against. Cambridge, MA, Cambridge university printing.

3. Joseph Boyle, Natural law and International Ethics, Traditions of international Ethics, p177

4. Michael Walzer. (2000) 3nd, Just and Unjust war, Basic Book, Network.

5. Hugo Grotius, De Jure Belli, ac Pacis, Oxford: Oxford University pres.

6. Samuel P.Huntington (1992), New Contingency, Old Roles, 2 Joint forces quartly, 338. 7. United Nations Charter, articles, 2(4), 2(7) -

– Abdullahi Warfa, warfak@hotmail.com

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