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Towards a Model for African Humanitarian Intervention

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  Web Editor:
  Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton
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J. Emeka Wokoro


 J. Emeka Wokoro , Towards a Model for African Humanitarian Intervention, 6 Regent Journal of International Law 1 (2008).

The ongoing genocide in Darfur and President George W. Bush's assertion of a "humanitarian intervention" defense to the Iraq war absent finding any vaunted weapons of mass destruction, the initial premise for the invasion, continue to fuel the debate on humanitarian *2 interventions. Ordinarily, this debate hardly arises if the United Nations, tasked with maintaining global peace and security and fostering fundamental human rights, has been effective, rather than sidelined, as it was in face of the butchery in Pol Pot's Cambodia, Idi Amin's Uganda, and the Rwandan genocide.

Nonetheless, in the face of the genocide in Darfur, and the significant displacement and destabilization of the region, is there a legal and moral framework for unilateral African intervention, collectively or individually? Is the "Never again!" slogan, first heard after the holocaust and repeated after the Rwanda slaughter, merely a vacuous expression bound to be uttered in expiation long after the killing has ended rather than a rousing reminder to protect the vulnerable?

Since colonialism, African nations have forged a dependent relationship with the West, relying on former colonial masters for solutions to their myriad malaises. This dependence begins to explain their propensity for awaiting international (mostly Western) resolution and intervention for their conflicts and any burgeoning crimes against humanity. While an apparent lack of resources for successful military intervention to halt atrocities might explain the reluctance of African nations to militarily intervene, it does not fully account for their failure to explore a range of non-military options such as rallying international *3 support, economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, travel restrictions, or championing U.N.-sanctioned military action. It also does not account for their failure to collaborate for effective, albeit limited, military action.

It is axiomatic that humanitarian interventions track state interests rather than being impelled by pure altruism or moral outrage. This paper postulates that if state interest determines humanitarian interventions, it then follows that Africa's lack of strategic interest to compel powerful nations to intervene begs an African response, as the continent careens from one conflict to another, and as coups and counter coups, dictatorships and imperial presidencies, and throngs of refugees and internally displaced persons characterize the African landscape.

Part I reviews the sovereignty/humanitarian intervention debate; explores the sovereignty concept within the African construct, from the first continental grouping, the OAU, to the current AU; and examines the results of the African worldview. Part II discusses the nexus between state interest and humanitarian intervention, which results in a dearth of international humanitarian interventions in Africa. Part III examines the AU and its modality for intervention, its history of non-interference, and the unreliability of such missions in the past. Part IV posits a model of collective African humanitarian intervention, argues for leadership by the Group of Four, examines the legality of such interventions under the U.N. and the AU, and concludes with a discussion on the ripeness of the Darfur conflict for such military intervention.

. . .
Darfur's urgent humanitarian scenario demands urgent African action, especially by the more resourceful Group of Four, who should apply potent non-military measures, such as economic, diplomatic, and transportation restrictions, and escalate to military action if the foregoing measures are futile or as exigency demands.

The apparent paralysis of both the AU and the U.N., the absence of a strong, committed regional group, such as ECOWAS in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the international community's immobility and apparent inability to translate tough rhetoric into meaningful action demands that individual African nations, acting individually or in concert as the Group of Four, lead the effort to halt the genocide in Darfur and tackle similar humanitarian crises elsewhere across the continent.

The U.N. Charter and the AU provide frameworks for humanitarian interventions to be undertaken collectively, when nations can, or unilaterally, when nations must. It is time, then, for African nations to take the lead to protect human rights. They must start not only by *36 establishing the Group of Four described above but also by revising the Constitutive Act to unambiguously provide for collective or individual humanitarian intervention when the AU is immobilized; to eliminate colonial-tinged, state-centric preference for sovereignty and non-interference; and to shift from a decades-old political liberation philosophy to a paradigm for the protection of fundamental human rights.

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