'Atrocity Suppression': an alternative to 'Humanitarian Intervention'

Thumbnail Image
Mawe, Timothy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University College Cork
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
The concept of humanitarian intervention has been around for centuries but came to particular prominence in the mid-1990s on foot of Genocides in Rwanda and at Srebrenica, Bosnia. The shocking brutality and scale of these events and the steadfast failure of the international community to defend the victims propelled the issue of humanitarian intervention to the centre of international relations discourse and fostered a growing conviction that atrocities ought to ‘never again’ be allowed to proceed unhindered. Enhanced support for humanitarian intervention was reflected in the short-term in the form of interventions in Kosovo, East Timor, and Sierra Leone and in the articulation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The dawn of the twenty-first century, thus, promised to herald a new era in which humanitarian intervention would be undertaken in a more consistent and principled manner than ever before. Such lofty expectations have quickly receded, however, and when it has come to confronting large-scale crises and taking effective remedial action – in Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur, Syria, Yemen, and Myanmar – the option of putting force to work in defence of afflicted populations has, as before, been eschewed. Whereas the prospect of intervention has continued to be stymied by the age-old impediment of apathy, engagement has also been considerably constrained by a newfound antipathy towards the idea of armed rescue itself. If previously, forcible intercession had been considered a laudable notion constrained by inertia, self-interest, and concerns about legality, in the twenty-first century it has increasingly come to be seen as flawed in its own right. Such has been the disillusionment with the concept that it has scarcely been mooted as a possible solution to recent crises in Yemen and Myanmar.In this thesis, I argue that the terminology of ‘humanitarian intervention’ has played a key role in the erosion of support for armed rescue. I contend that the singular terminology of ‘humanitarian intervention’ has come to be used to denote several different models of action and that these models have become confused by virtue of semantic association. I argue, in particular, that the ‘classical’ model of humanitarian intervention, concerned with interceding in major atrocities, has come to be conflated with various ‘contemporary’ models of humanitarian intervention. In this way, classical humanitarian intervention has come to be tarnished by the failings and divisiveness of interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Considering the need to differentiate classical humanitarian intervention as a unique concept, and responding, moreover, to the opposition of the humanitarian sector to the association of the word ‘humanitarian’ with military endeavour, I propose that a new name be coined to delineate the classical idea. I, thus, introduce ‘atrocity suppression’ and articulate the key benefits that will accrue from its adoption.
Atrocity suppression , Atrocity crimes , Syrian Civil War , Humanitarian intervention , Responsibility to protect
Mawe, T. 2021. 'Atrocity Suppression': an alternative to 'Humanitarian Intervention'. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
Link to publisher’s version