Ethics & International Affairs
Annual Journal of the
Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs
Volume 13, 1999
The tragedies of the past decade have led to an identity crisis among humanitarians. Respecting traditional principles of neutrality and impartiality and operating procedures based on consent has created as many problems as it has solved. A debate is raging between classicists, who believe that humanitarian action can be insulated from politics, and various political humanitarians, who are attempting to use politics to improve relief and delivery in war zones. This essay examines the pros and cons of impartial versus political humanitarianism and differing approaches across a spectrum of actors, including the classicists, led by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who believe that humanitarian action can and should be completely insulated from politics; the minimalists, who aim to do no harm in delivering relief; the maximalists, who have a more ambitious agenda of employing humanitarian action as part of a comprehensive strategy to transform conflict; and the solidarists, exemplified by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), who choose sides and abandon neutrality and impartiality as well as reject consent as a prerequisite for intervention. The essay argues that there is no longer any need to ask whether politics and humanitarian action intersect. The real question is how this intersection can be managed to ensure more humanized politics and more effective humanitarian action.
Thomas Weiss oversimplifies when he identifies the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with the classicist position of nonconfrontation. The ICRC defines humanitarian action to include advocacy through public and private channels to protect individuals and communities against violations of international humanitarian law. Weiss rightly points out the difficulty of making belligerents, or unprincipled actors, understand the value of nonpartisan and impartial action. Still, the ICRC remains committed to finding new language for communicating the principles of humanitarian action and new techniques of negotiation. In this regard the ICRC is classicist. But this classicism places the ICRC on the side of the solidarists in defending the interests of individuals and communities in distress, and on the side of the maximalists in its advocacy of international humanitarian law.
Far from rejecting the classicist approach, as Thomas Weiss claims, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) follows the fundamental principle of providing aid in proportion to need and without discrimination. Actions that on Weisss political continuum would be termed solidarist are less an expression of political preference than a determination to claim and operate within humanitarian space as well as to maintain accountability to international civil society through testimony ( témoignage) regarding mass violations of human rights. Although providing aid in conflict is implicitly political, involving humanitarian actors and aid in conflict resolution initiatives, as Weiss advocates, risks diluting the primary responsibility of humanitarian aid to alleviate suffering. It also further shifts the responsibility for conflict resolution and the respect of international legal conventions from accountable political institutions to the private sphere. Is this where we want to lead humanitarianism?
Thomas Weisss essay is a fine contribution to the current conversation within the humanitarian international, but there is a worrying absence of a broader, extra-humanitarian context in the discussion. There is no question that Human Rightsism has become the dominant political ideology of the international new class, and the common currency of UN treaties, academic conferences, and charitable foundation mission statements. What remains open to question is whether, in the field, where humanitarians and human rights activists do their work, this revolution is real, or whether it is instead a fiction well-intentioned Westerners have chosen to believe in because otherwise the realities of the contemporary world would seem too bleak. It is an ironic reality that humanitarian workers and human rights activists have become the last interventionists. But should the humanitarian movement be embarking down the path of demanding more political action and, when necessary in order to allow humanitarians to do their work, military intervention? Should, as relief agencies insist, humanitarian considerations always take pride of place? There are unexamined assumptions here that need to be thought through more rigorously than those engaged in the debate have seemed willing to do.
This essay formulates eight goals that have emerged from worldwide moral deliberation on transitional justice and that may serve as a useful framework when particular societies consider how they should reckon with violations of internationally recognized human rights. These goals include: truth, a public platform for victims, accountability and punishment, the rule of law, compensation to victims, institutional reform and long-term development, reconciliation, and public deliberation. These eight goals are used to identify and clarify (1) the variety of ethical issues that emerge in reckoning with past wrongs, (2) widespread agreements about initial steps for resolving each issue, (3) leading options for more robust solutions of each issue, and (4) ways to weight or trade off the norms when they conflict. The aim is to show that there are crucial moral aspects in reckoning with the past and to clarify, criticize, revise, apply, and diffuse eight moral norms. These goals are not a one-size-fits-all blueprint but rather a framework by which societies confronting past atrocities can decidethrough cross-cultural and critical dialoguewhat is most important to accomplish and the morally best ways to do so.
In transitional societies like South Africa and Bosnia, which are currently moving from authoritarianism, and often violent repression, to democracy, questions arise about the appropriate way to deal with serious human rights offenders. Will a system of retributive justice bring about the healing and harmony necessary for peace and stability? Or, is a different kind of justice required, one explicitly aimed at reconciliation, and designed to repair and restore relations, and, perhaps, to forgive offenders rather than prosecute them? Are the systems mutually exclusive, or can they be combined in some way? In an effort to clarify terms and sharpen practical choices, this essay distinguishes between retributive and restorative justice and relates the distinction to constructive proposals concerning the ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation. The essay then applies the proposed framework to two recent efforts to cope with the problem: the truth and reconciliation commissions of South Africa and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Reconciliation is being urged upon people who have been bitter and murderous enemies, upon victims and perpetrators of terrible human rights abuses, and upon groups of individuals whose very self-conceptions have been structured in terms of historical and often state-sanctioned relations of dominance and submission. The rhetoric of reconciliation is particularly common in situations where traditional judicial responses to past wrongdoing are unavailable because of corruption in the legal system, staggeringly large numbers of offenders, or anxiety about the political consequences of trials and punishment. But what is reconciliation? How is reconciliation to be achieved? And under what conditions should it be sought? The notable lack of answers to these questions prompts the worry that talk of reconciliation is merely a ruse to disguise the fact that a purer type of justice cannot be realizedthat, in being asked to focus on reconciliation rather than on punishment, victims of past wrongdoing are having to settle for the morally second best. By mining our pretheoretical understandings of reconciliation, the essay arrives at a core concept of reconciliation as narrative incorporation that at the same time suggests a way in which reconciliation might be pursued and grounds a response to moral qualms provoked by the use of an unanalyzed conception of reconciliation.
Throughout Latin America during the past 15 years, new democratic or postwar governments have faced demands for transitional justice following the end of authoritarian rule or the conclusion of internal armed conflicts. Demands for justice for serious past abuses have often been met by threats of destabilization by the perpetrators and calls for forgiving and forgetting in the name of reconciliation. Although recent developments in and interpretations of international law oblige states to punish those responsible for serious human rights violations, many transitional governments insist that reconciliation requires broad amnesty laws. This essay first reviews basic legal and conceptual issues relating to prosecution of, and grants of amnesty to, those responsible for gross human rights abuses during earlier periods. A comparative examination follows, starting with El Salvador, where the amnesty law constitutes the most comprehensive and successful action to end efforts to address past abuses. The essay then reviews the status of efforts in Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Guatemala, and South Africa, where, despite amnesty laws, civil society and courts have sought to uncover the truth about the past, hold perpetrators accountable, and obtain redress for victims.
Economic sanctions are emerging as one of the major tools of international governance in the postCold War era. Sanctions have long been seen as a form of political intervention that does not cause serious human damage, and therefore does not raise pressing ethical questions. However, the nature of sanctions is that they effectively target the most vulnerable and least political sectors of society, and for this reason they must be subject to ethical scrutiny. This essay looks at sanctions in the context of three ethical frameworks: just war doctrine, deontological ethics, and utilitarianism. It argues that sanctions are inconsistent with the principle of discrimination from just war doctrine; that sanctions reduce individuals to nothing more than means to an end by using the suffering of innocents as a means of persuasion, thereby violating the Kantian principle that human beings are ends in themselves; and that sanctions are unacceptable from a utilitarian perspective because their economic effectiveness necessarily entails considerable human damage, while their likelihood of achieving political objectives is low.
Joy Gordon has made a major contribution to both the ethical analysis and the policy evaluation of economic sanctions. But her claims against sanctions should be understood as critique rather than condemnation and rejection of sanctions on ethical grounds. Through a series of arguments and examples, this response points out that Gordon may be too narrow in defining sanctions success, and that, where sanctions have gone awry, it is because they were unimaginatively formulated and poorly implemented, not because sanctions are categorically unethical. Multilateral sanctions in the late 1990s are simply more finely tuned than a few years ago. As a technique of coercive diplomacy, sanctions are meant to change dramatically the costs and benefits that leaders of a nation calculate operate in their favor as they pursue policies that the majority of the international community have declared abhorrent. We can, with the help of Gordons critical claims, accomplish this goal in a more ethical manner, and by so doing, increase the likely success of sanctions in the future.
At the end of World War II, the phrase human rights was virtually unknown, whether in the media, in standard textbooks, or as a guideline for state conduct in the emerging international community. It was nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that made the phrase a core element of the United Nations Charter in 1944, even as they pressed for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted three years later. This was but the beginning of a historic effort to make the Declaration a fundamental standard for measuring progress in civilized society. If the principal motivation was the prevention of another Holocaust, NGOs would fulfill the indispensable function, projected by Eleanor Roosevelt, of serving as the curious grapevine that would enlighten everyone about their rights and channel information about human rights violations to the world community. This essay is about the curious grapevine, an extraordinary tale of how NGOs, through their persuasion, have made human rights a major item in international discourse in the media, state chancellories, and international institutions. NGOs have played the leading role in the creation of international standards and in establishing legally binding treaties incorporating these standards. They are central to the process of adopting implementing organs to these treaties and in providing the essential documentation and briefings to make these organs work.
Public officials frequently assert that nations shape their own economic destiny. This statement implies that the international economy presents a level playing field for all participants. If the rules of globalization were somehow written in favor of certain countries, however, that would not be true, and the legitimacy of the economic system would be cast in doubt. This essay examines the structure of the international trade regime. Following John Rawls, it asserts that justice is the first virtue of social institutions. This leads to the question: Is the trade regime just? The essay seeks to answer that question through both a theoretical and empirical exploration of the trading system. Building on the Rawlsian original position, it sketches the fundamental principles that would underlie such a regime. It then traces the history of North-South trade relations as a case study. The essay concludes by suggesting that concerns with the trade regimes normative framework have played an important role in shaping its basic principles. But that does not mean that the regime is just. Greater transfers from North to South would be one of the major requirements of justice that currently are not being met.
This essay provides an overview of the connections between financial globalization, domestic autonomy, and social justice. It starts by identifying reasons why capital mobility and social justice may be at odds. It then distinguishes four arguments: that capital mobility is incompatible with the maintenance of distinctive national social systems and, specifically, social safety nets; that capital mobility undermines the ability of governments to use Keynesian monetary and fiscal policies to stabilize their economies; that capital mobility is in fact a hindrance to economic growth and development; and that the negative effects of capital mobility are felt disproportionately by developing countries. Review of the evidence shows that these arguments must in fact be more strongly qualified than at least some critics of capital mobility suggest. The essay then turns to the Asian crisis, which has encouraged a more skeptical view of the benefits of international financial liberalization, and asks what lessons the crisis contains for this debate. The Asian crisis, while confirming that high capital mobility creates pressure for institutional convergence, does not suggest that convergence must be instantaneous and complete. In addition, the crisis raises pressing questions about the advice given developing countries by the IMF and the advanced-industrial countries about the management of international capital flows, which are considered as well. Finally, the essay examines reforms designed to better reconcile the globalization of finance with social justice, distinguishing reform at the national level from reform of the IMF and reform of the broader international system.