RICR No. 849

Note on humanitarian intervention

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Owing to widespread atrocities witnessed in the last decade of the twentieth century, and in particular those associated with the NATO intervention in Kosovo, the issue of humanitarian intervention has been thrust into the political and doctrinal limelight. In the legal sense, humanitarian intervention is one form of foreign forcible intervention.2 It may be defined as the use of force in order to stop or oppose massive violations of the most fundamental human rights (especially mass murder and genocide) in a third State, provided that the victims are not nationals of the intervening State and there is no legal authorization given by a competent international organization, such as, in particular, the United Nations by means of the Security Council. Such humanitarian intervention need not take the form of action by a single intervening State; but it must be unilateral. Thus, if several States pool their military resources together to intervene in a foreign territory, that constitutes a collective intervention. However, the intervention is unilateral, in that it is coercive action taken by some States acting as would do a single subject. Moreover, humanitarian intervention takes place only insofar as no consent is given by the third State. If consent is given, there is no need legally to invoke the concept of humanitarian intervention; rather, it will be intervention by invitation.

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