I can find several examples where no nation or international body made an intervention to stop ethnic cleansing or genocide , because of lack of geopolitical and resource based interest , such as -

  1. Rawandan genocide against Tutsi people by Hutu majority government in the Rwanda.

  2. Rohingya genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar , where they face mass rapes and murders.

Where as a coalition of nations including U.S. intervened when Iraq invaded Kuwait , just because Kuwait has humongous oil resources , unlike Myanmar or Rwanda.

The same also applies to India which did not even helped in intervention of Rohingya genocide whereas it helped in intervention of massacre and genocide in the east Pakistan (now Bangladesh) , just became of it's geopolitical interest in removing Pakistan from Bangladesh.

It also seems that nations also have a religious inclination towards not stopping genocides of groups which have completely different religion than the majority religion of the nation.

Why is there no universal standard procedure for military intervention when it comes to genocide ?


3 Answers 3


Why is there no universal standard procedure for military intervention when it comes to genocide ?

Actually, there is. The United Nations has a specific international law for Genocide called the "UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide". This international law binds all signatories and requires them to intervene in genocide incidents... However, what counts as genocide is... fuzzy.

The law states to effect that genocide is:

actions, committed with demonstrable intent, to kill off a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

It should be pointed out that certain categories like sexuality, disabled, or political doctrine are not list under the definition of genocide and if you're wondering why, keep in mind that this was passed in 1948, during a period of time where the USSR was firmly under Stalin, who was actually systemically mass killing people for more political reasons than anything else.

The other key issue is that in order for a "legal" genocide to have occure, it must be demonstrated that it was co-ordinated. The Nazi's Genocide of Jews (along with other minority categories) was discussed at length by top ranking government officials, but some cases of genocide aren't so cut and dry... Where it could be argued that the policy was to take "genocide-like" actions, it can be hard to say that it is authorized by a government policy or an unfortunate side effect of some other policy that was just implemented poorly rather than an actual desire for the extermination of a group of people that meet the above.

Digging deeper, there are other reasons for non-intervention... For one, any thing of this nature will have to pass through the UN Security Council. The Permanent Members (United States of America, United Kingdom, France, USSR/Russia Federation, Republic of China/Peoples Republic of China) all have veto powers so any resolution must meet all five of those member's approval... this rarely happens. The USSR/Russia Federation is probably the worst user of the Veto, with one early ambassador gaining the title of "Mr. Veto" but the United States is no slouch either. Also interesting to point out that all of those nations have rather colorful parts of their past that they don't like to talk about. This was also during the cold war and Russia, China, and the U.S. did not play well together... the UK and France tended to lean towards the United States (and just so we're clear on China, they rarely vetoed on any matter that had no affect on their interests but they did not politically like, favoring abstaining from the vote). Getting all five of those nations to agree on Pizza Toppings would be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, let alone that they needed to stop a genocide.

As for the two genocides you listed, well there are also some other factors that contributed. In the case of Rwanda, the U.S. (along with much of the UN) did not intervene because the disastrous Battle of Mogadishu (the battle that gave us Black Hawk Down) was still fresh in the minds of all involved in the Somali Intervention. France (and Belgium) hindered efforts by evacuating only French Expatriots and refused to save any Tutsi who boarded their trucks, including forcing them to get out at Government Check Points where they were killed on the spot. Then, when France returned to lead in the creation a UN sanctioned safe zone, many of the Tutsi saw this as a Safe zone for the Hutu, who were now in danger from the Tutsi backed Rwanda Patriot Front forces (RWP) that were now fighting back against the genocide.

As for the Rohingya Persecution, I think that at this moment the events are too recent to reliably speak with the 20/20 hindsight I discussed with other issues. The true extent is difficult to ascertain given the government highly controlling media access to the state where it is occurring.

In summation, there are a lot of legal assesements and political ties that often get in the way of doing what's right. I generally think that on these areas, the UN is woefully incapable of handling it's responsibility to stop these atrocities but each case has it's own individual reason for lack of response. Keep in mind, that this isn't unheard of. The crime is realtively new and even successful prosecutions take decades. Not every genocidal action is predated by a political manifesto that spells out what the leadership intends to do to minorities if they get power... and even then, Hitler's actions were so outlandish that many people were convinced the victims were making it up. Many of the troops who first went into the camps were briefed on what they were likely to find... and even they weren't properly prepared for the true extent of what they found.

  • 4
    Correct answer. TLDR: There's a convention on genocide, but it's used as justification and not as binding rules.
    – MSalters
    Mar 15, 2018 at 16:59
  • Would the recent "Duty to protect" intervention in Libya be an example? Mar 17, 2018 at 18:25
  • @KeithMcClary I don't know much about that use, though "Duty to Protect" is language used in the genocide law. I can honestly say I'm not aware of the specifics of what is happening in Libya, genocide or otherwise, beyond "It is a bad situation".
    – hszmv
    Mar 19, 2018 at 14:41
  • The countries where the government is dependent on support of the populace don't do it because their populace doesn't demand it. Homo Sapiens didn't evolve to be altruistic to those outside one's tribe (naturally, 150 people closest to you; but you can socially hack that to enlarge the group - see Crusades being sold to people as "Fellow Christians suffering")

  • The countries where the government isn't, don't do it because that government doesn't care (and they still do need to care about popular opinion, just less so).

Please recall what happened to governments in countries that decided to "get into a land war in Asia". Conservatives lost power in USA (thanks to Vietnam War protest movement). Communists lost power in USSR - and a large part of the issue was the War in Afghanistan they started in 1980 and popular discontent over the body bags (source: I grew up at that time and recall people reacting to dead loved ones). Bush lost all his popularity and Republicans lost Presidency thanks to Iraq War.

Basically, the cost of military intervention AND subsequent pacification to the country is typically enormous, in blood and treasure. Mere humanitarian concerns don't usually cost enough pressure to outweigh that.


Why is there no universal standard procedure for military intervention when it comes to genocide ?

What you are talking about is often called "Humanitarian Intervention" and is a very complex field of study. It has a varied history, but to cut a long story short what you have to remember is that for it to be just, it should really be multilateral - that is a number of countries should be involved.

There isn't really an international agency that can act, other than the UN, and as the discussions at the UN usually include those states who are committing genocide or through willing inaction allowing to them happen within their borders (and arguably more importantly their allies and particularly patron states) things quite often grind to a halt. Any state conducting a genocide will deny it when asked and those states supporting them will question the accuser's motives.

Therefore, western states quite often take their own actions in concert with each other, but only when they can successfully argue to their people that it is necessary. Wars like Vietnam have made populaces very wary of war, whilst things like the Iraq Dossier have made them wary of government's justifications. It also often has an overtone of "excusing" other reasons to go to war - once it became clear that the Iraqi's didn't have chemical weapons on anything like the scale suggested, the arguments about humanitarian intervention started to raise their heads instead. It has therefore fallen somewhat out of favour with the populace of those states most able to act.

That such a humanitarian war requires serious intervention in the internal social structure of a country (protecting the at-risk populace is usually more than just "Go in and kill the people doing the killing" - see the Bosnian War and Kosovo War ) means that it's expensive - a good reason why states may find it unpalatable. States also don't like violating the norms of sovereign power either - allow America to stop your neighbour from killing the minority he doesn't like today and you might find that your penchant for locking people up who piss you off gets you a 6 am wake-up call by your local neighbourhood friendly SAS team in six months time.

There are lots of more academic criticisms of humanitarian intervention too, which undermines the use of it to prevent genocide by providing copious ammunition. As you point out, as a doctrine it is inconsistently applied. It has also been tarnished by its association with the strongest western powers - those with a colonial history. Ex-Colonial powers telling governments how to run their country is always unpopular. It is also often seen as a "big dogs telling the little ones what to do" situation as well - note that you rarely get states like Togo telling the Russians they can't go around killing Chechnyans.

TL: DR, Humanitarian Intervention is hard to justify. it's difficult for states to be unpopular enough to warrant UN action. It's difficult for states to have enough internal support for action in other countries. It's difficult for governments to justify intervening to themselves and it's easy for governments to argue why it shouldn't happen to them.

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