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Humanitarian Intervention: Yet Another Manifestation Of Neocolonialism

Posted on August 12, 2012 in GlobeScope

By Karmanye Thadani:

Colonialism has been the direct subjugation of one nation by another and the dominance of the more powerful has continued to exist, albeit in more subtle ways. I often dislike the term neocolonialism.’ It has an air of hypocrisy to it, and it’s not like developed countries are always wrong in their stand, but that being said, in this article, I shall accept the term in its popular sense and argue that the idea of humanitarian intervention of a military character, though arguably sanctioned by international law, has an element of dominance to it, even though it’s carried out in the sacrosanct name of upholding human rights.

In the summer of 2011, when the Arab Spring was going on, I was in Oxford for a one-month course on international human rights law and our very first lecture was taken by Prof. Joe Olaka Unyango from Uganda whose dark skin proved that this course on human rights in a country dominated by whites upholds the spirit of human dignity. Prof. Joe raised many concerns in that lecture of his, but an extract which effectively sums up what I am going to discuss in this piece is stated hereunder —

“…it is the case of Libya which dramatically raises the issue of how the human rights system operates in the contemporary context, especially when juxtaposed to the international military-security complex. It surfaces numerous questions as to how and when the system of humanitarian intervention or the responsibility to protect (R2P) is invoked. In particular, what is the threshold that should invite such action? Who determines that threshold, and finally, how is the intervention operationalized? How do we prevent interventions à la carte? Is there a danger that the language of human rights which was once used primarily by the victims of repression has now become the language of power and of interventionists who turn victims not into agents but into proxies? Has human rights been subverted from a language that empowers victims to a language that serves the designs of an interventionist power on an international scale? Is there a kind of humanitarian ‘imperialism’ in which human rights is used as a rule to execute war? ”

A few months later, Gaddafi was captured and killed, and not put on trial in the International Criminal Court at The Hague, as he was meant to. I thought a fair trial too was a human right, but these people, it seems, have a different version of the term. To argue that a military intervention is necessary to put a stop to instances of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or the crime of aggression and in these contexts, the government of any country has a Responsibility to Protect (R2P), even in the context of human beings of other nationalities may well seem justified but if it were purely for these very ends. The US didn’t care about the barbarianism of the Taliban, a Frankenstein monster of its own creation, until 9/11 happened. And if liberating the Afghans from these fanatic goons (which would have certainly been a laudable objective) genuinely figured on their agenda, then the US military wouldn’t have committed so many excesses and destroyed ten thousand villages in that country.

The immense destruction selectivity exhibited by these big powers while demonstrating their humanitarian concerns exposes their utmost hypocrisy. The NATO took an interest in Libya (where it committed excesses too, and in the process, emerged a third category of radicalized Muslim Libyans who despised both Gaddafi and the US) and the US wanted to enter the troubled waters of Syria too, but what about Bahrain where the Arab Spring has subsided, with the US selling arms to the repressive totalitarian regime? What about their dear ally, Saudi Arabia, which forces women to wear burqas and prohibits them from driving?

I know I have not hit any new ground in this piece but the naiveté many exhibit while analyzing foreign policy and assigning labels of good or bad or actually assuming that the developed world genuinely has very altruistic motives in undertaking these military expeditions does indeed quite amaze me.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author:  Karmanye Thadani is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India byMeans of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World: A Socio-Legal Perspective’. He is currently working as a research associate in the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a reputed Delhi-based public policy think-tank. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]