Human Rights Watch has a new report out on the Iraq War. According to HRW's director, Kenneth Roth:
". . . removing Saddam Hussein from power brought about the end of one of the world’s most abusive governments. But intervening militarily on the territory of a sovereign state, without its permission, is inherently dangerous and must be undertaken for humanitarian purposes in only the most extreme cases. While Saddam Hussein had an atrocious human rights record, his worst atrocities were committed long before the intervention. At the time coalition forces invaded Iraq, there was no ongoing or imminent mass killing of the sort that would require the kind of preventive military action that should characterize true humanitarian interventions."
“The Bush administration cannot justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention, and neither can Tony Blair. Saddam Hussein’s atrocities should certainly be punished, and his worst atrocities, such as the 1988 genocide against the Kurds, would have justified humanitarian intervention then. But such interventions should be reserved for stopping an imminent or ongoing slaughter. They shouldn’t be used belatedly to address atrocities that were ignored in the past.”
So let me get this straight, genocide is only a crime if you get caught in the act? Also, Roth agrees that Saddam should be punished, but how would that be possible without toppling the Iraqi regime?
Furthermore, even if Saddam was to never again commit atrocities on the scale of 1988, he clearly was going to keep on killing Iraqis. Putting aside the tens of thousands of children killed every year by his abuse of the sanctions, Saddam was killing thousands of Iraqis every year as a matter of course. Just how many dead Iraqis would Roth like to see before he justifies intervention. 1000? 5000? 10,000? 100,000? More?
Roth's defense of state sovereignty makes him sound like the head of Treaty of Westphalia Watch, not Human Rights Watch. This deference to state sovereignty made sense at a time when wars usually entailed massive civilian casualties and when there were no agreed upon norms of democratic governance. But today, technological changes have raised the possibility of relativelys short and bloodless wars, such as what we saw last year in Iraq. Furthermore, there is a global norm of democratic and humanitarian values. Therefore, I would argue that regimes, like Saddams, that ruthlessly and continually brutalize their own people abdicate the normal rights accorded to sovereign states, and deposing them is justified if the cost in civilian casualties is proportionate to the ends. Contrary to Roth, the Iraq War was a humanitarian war.