The “New Humanitarianism” and Rule vs. Act Utilitarianism (Consequentialism)

In chapter 3 of Humanitarian Intervention Weiss analyses “new wars” and “new humanitarianisms.”  The changing nature of humanitarian work is characterized by many things, but I’d like to focus on one particularly, which will lead us to a discussion of the importance of neutrality and the concepts of rule and act utilitarianism.

Weiss argues that humanitarian responses, by NGOs particularly,  are becoming more ambitious in scope and thereby shifting from a focus on short-term emergency relief to “attacking the root causes and post-conflict peacebuilding.” He continues,

“rather than provide band-aids, they [humanitarians] wish to use assistance and protection as levers. Many aid agencies desire to spread development, democracy, and human rights and create stable, effective, and legitimate states.” (76)

This has led, concomitantly, to a change in the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. These principles, Weiss notes, “made sense if the objective was to provide relief and gain access to affected populations.” These principles, it is argued, foundered upon the reality that contemporary wars–“new wars”–were creating “unanticipated and unintended negative consequences.” Moreover, in a world in which the combatants are state militaries, neutrality and impartiality retained some internal logic. However, as genocidaires and other ty[es of rebel groups become the main combatants in civil wars and the predominant perpetrators of crimes against humanity, the principles of neutrality and impartiality come to be seen increasingly as relics of a bygone era.

A few students took issue with this argument, insisting that there are also likely to be unintended consequences of humanitarian organizations repudiating the principles of neutrality and impartiality. They mentioned some of these in class. This prompted a quick excursion by me into the difference between act and rule utilitarianism/consequentialism. I’ll explain below the fold:

Bosnia Muslim leaders argued that the neutrality policy allowed Messrs. Karadzic and Mladic free reign in their campaign to ethnically cleanse large swaths of Bosnia of (well-fed) Muslims.

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Peace and Punishment–An Insider’s Account of the ICTY

Marko Attila Hoare, whose blog (Greater Surbiton) is a great place to read about South East European politics, has a post on the recently published book by former spokeswoman of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Florence Hartmann.  The book is written in French and the title is Paix et chatiment: Les guerres secretes de la politique et de la justice internationales [Peace and Punishment: Secret Politial Wars and International Justice].

Hoare has a long post about the book. Here are some snippets:

[Hartmann] has used her eyewitness’s insight into the inner workings of the ICTY to support her blistering critique of the failure of the Western alliance to support the cause of justice for the former Yugoslavia. Her book paints a portrait of Western powers, above all the US, Britain and France, stifling the ICTY and preventing the arrest of war-criminals through a combination of obstruction, manipulation, mutual rivalry and sheer inertia.

One of the best parts of the book concerns what Hartmann terms the ‘fictitious pursuit’ of the two most prominent Bosnian Serb war-criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, involving repeated failures to arrest them. Hartmann gives various reasons why the Western powers might have behaved in this manner, among them the alleged agreement in 1995 between Milosevic, Mladic and French President Jacques Chirac, that in return for the release of two French pilots shot down by the Serbs over Bosnia, Mladic would never be prosecuted by the ICTY; the similar alleged agreement between Karadzic, Mladic and the US’s Richard Holbrooke in 1996, for Karadzic to withdraw from political life in return for a guarantee that he would never be prosecuted; and the readiness in 2002 of Bosnia’s High Representative, Britain’s Paddy Ashdown, to sabotage the attempts of Bosnian intelligence chief Munir Alibabic to track down Karadzic, out of rivalry with the French intelligence services with which Alibabic was working…

Peace and Punishment, nevertheless, remains essential reading for several reasons. It reminds us that, however critical one may be of del Ponte’s performance as Chief Prosecutor, she was very far from being the only senior individual responsible for the ICTY’s failures. It gives an insight into the sort of debates and conflicts over strategy that preoccupied war-crimes investigators at the OTP. And it highlights the fact that, far from being an agent of Western imperialism, the Chief Prosecutor was acting in a frequently hostile international arena, in which she had to struggle for international cooperation, and in which the ICTY was frequently squeezed rather than supported by the Great Powers. Although, as I have indicated, I am highly critical of several aspects of this book, I would nevertheless recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of why international justice has failed the peoples of the former Yugoslavia.