Sovereignty and Human Rights

Traditionally, sovereignty is described state's jurisdiction to self-government that is free from external interferences (Glanville 2014, p.11). In that case, a sovereign country would be accountable to none but itself. The same state is expected to meddle in its internal affairs, politics, and decision-making process without interfering with that of another sovereign country. However, in the context of international politics, the meaning has twisted from its originality to accommodate trends in human-rights norms as well notions of sovereign responsibilities. That way a country would be restricted do whatever it wishes across its territory due to the influences from the international community. In cases where power is exercised to a sovereign state in the push for sovereignty responsibility from external source quashes the meaning or lacks sovereign authority. In some instances, where the sovereign state has failed to protect the civilian and instead increased humanitarian issues, the international communities have come out to redefine terms that would ideally solve the human rights issues. In most cases, this would be defined as meddling to states affairs and thus, restrict another country from protecting the oppressed civilians so as not to break the sovereign rule.

The civilians in such cases are left in the receiving ends of the internal conflicts and political tussle in the country. For the citizens, therefore, sovereignty seems meaningless and unable to protect the public interest. In that respect, this paper seeks to analyze the sovereignty norms and how they have disadvantaged communities as well as their impact on humanitarians' issues and relevance in geopolitics. Also, the paper seeks to bring to attention some interventions that have at one time helped in redefining protection of human rights based on several international cases.

The Role of International Law

In considering the critical aspect of the international law, the sovereignty of a state is subject to violation due to legal interventions. Therefore, the relevance of international law in bringing constraints and impacts of state and non-state actors is a point of consideration in redefining sovereignty. In the lens of increasing disregard for the human rights, there has been a significant call on the humanization of the international law (Teitel 2008, p.667). In such cases, sovereignty would be constrained on their role in protecting civilians which means that deviation from this responsibility leads to violation of sovereign authority. The structures of such doctrines would mean the fusion between the human rights and humanitarian law. Also, some global legalists assert that the imperative way to rationalize the changes beyond traditional sovereignty is by the applying law in state’s affairs (Teitel 2008, p.668). Regarding this, some of the law such as the utopian version has been proposed since it emphasizes the political responsibility to universal morality (Teitel 2008, p.668). Such context violates the traditional norms of sovereignty which another state would use in meddling with host country's affairs.

In most cases, the developing countries protest the application of the international law as it seems to confine its jurisdiction to violate the sovereignty of these countries. For instance, the International Criminal Court has been on the spot for protest from African countries since they feel their sovereign authority has been redefined or disregarded. This was evident after the court issued an arrest warrant to the political elite in Kenya that triggered protest and a mission to exit from the Rome statute (Vinjamuri 2016, p.276). Some countries such as Russia and China also have continued to protest that the International Criminal Court violates their national sovereignty. A critical twist to this challenge of the international compliance is that fact that the United States has been a supporter of this court and yet has refused to become its members (Vinjamuri 2016, p.276). That way some developing countries may feel that the superpowers are using such court system to violate their sovereign authority. The United States also has been vocal in challenging ICC authority and sometimes being a staunch supporter of the court. On a critical account, the U.S. has at one time challenged Palestine's intention to join the court, in which it threatens to impose sanctions to the Palestinian Authority (Vinjamuri 2016, p.276). On a critical, view, this move can be focused as a move to undermine the efforts of a sovereign country by the powerful state as well as arm-twist to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The case of Palestine, therefore, brings a view that the sovereignty does not mean self-governance to other countries is subject to shifts due to outsider motives and interests. The prohibition from joining the ICC would mean that the civilian in Palestine would have no one to fight for their justice in case of humanitarian issues. Another view from the same case is that efforts of the court can be manipulated with regard to the strength of the state and thus, undermining the overall independence. Nonetheless, the ideals of the functions of the international court system are expected to fully manifest themselves independent from political interferences (Vinjamuri 2016, p.277).

The Role of Great Power and Politics

The facets of interference in reference to the international court and international community have been an evident scenario in Libya case. The case presents the influence of international court, the great power and politics in the sovereignty of a country (Vinjamuri 2016, p.284). The first intervention of the court was to issue an arrest warrant against Colonel Gaddafi which coincided with the military campaign from France, United Kingdom, and the United States. On the other hand, African countries such as South Africa had a diverged view from that of NATO (Vinjamuri 2016, p.284). Instead, the South African president Jacob Zuma had proposed for dialogue as a mechanism to end the Libyan crisis. The African Union also had rejected the arrest warrant against Gaddafi and had opted d for a negotiated solution (Vinjamuri 2016, p.284).

On a critical view, this case presents the supremacy of other states as the bases to redefine the sovereignty of a country. Perhaps, what the African country proposed could have surpassed the military intervention from the superpower and NATO. This is a clear indication that powerful country would make a move to violate the sovereign authority of another country irrespective of other workable solutions. Although NATO and the western powers, could have justified their actions against Libya on the basis of "responsibility to protect" the civilian, there were alternatives that were not given equal measures.

Another case that associates interferences with the power and politics are the case of Syria. The insight is due to the magnitude and the time of the two events. For the case of Libya, the intervention happened in a quick manner while the interventions in Syria seem to slow as the European countries were waiting for the United States' support to hold Assad accountable for crimes against humanity in Syria (Vinjamuri 2016, p.285). Although at later dates the U.S. decided to support, they did not investigate Assad's crimes but instead funded investigation for Islamic State crimes. In this case, it can be seen that sovereign and responsibility to protect is oriented to the power of the state and thus they work with regards to their interest and not that of the local people.

Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Sovereign Authority

Responsibility to protect in one of the significant outcomes of the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS)  (Crossley 2015, p.1). This commission aimed to develop support for humanitarian intervention. The report also emphasized on the idea of responsibility as a supreme function of the sovereignty. In that case, a state was mandated to "dual responsibility" in which the country would protect its citizens as well as fostering state sovereignty (Crossley 2015, p.1). According to the General Assembly report 2009, the R2P responsibility primarily entailed three significant issues. These pillars includes, the responsibility of the country to protect its population from the atrocity crimes, the responsibility of the other states to support clause one and the responsibility of the international community to address by all means and in accordance to the United Nation Charter protection of the population in cases where the host country is unable to protect its people (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.201).

The extent or the jurisdiction of responsibility to protect intervention has raised unanimous consensus in the aspect of the international community and most importantly how it should be applied to countries where there are increased atrocities. The consideration lies on the either to institute measures such as diplomatic pressure, sanctions, and a threat of  ICC prosecution or an extreme option of external military force (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.200). Such consensus was raised when the NATO-led forces were reported to have exceeded their citizen protection mandate. The concerns were raised by the emerging national economies which comprise of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS countries) (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.200).

Responsibility to protect is one of the humanitarian interventions the international community use to justify their meddling in other sovereign states. Although this move is appraised across the globe due to its effort in protecting the civilian against human right issues and genocides, there is a diverse feeling that some system may be used to undermine states sovereign authority. For instance, the United States invade Iraq in 2003 was justified by the use of "humanitarian intervention" term which raises ethical issues in the international relations (Hopgood 2014, p.183). The hidden motives by some countries in the responsibility to protect perhaps made Ban Ki-moon argue that R2P is a political principle and should not be confused with the legal protection of civilians (Hopgood 2014, p.184).

The interventions in reference to the responsibility to protect in the case of Libya have been criticised due to the feeling that the objective was not genuinely based on the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas but rather a fight to the regime (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.206). The critics outline several issues in the military intervention by the NATO-led group. Firstly, it was noted that feeling persons showing no forms of threats to the civilians were targeted by the military (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.206). Another issue is the cease-fire that happened when Benghazi shown defense (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.206). These issues made the critics have a feeling that the fight was to change regime. However, some of the critical players mostly the western powers asserted that the only way to control Tripoli would be realized by overthrowing Muammar's regime (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.206). Some critics such as Brazil to the Libyan interventions by the NATO-led group have proposed an alternative mechanism that seems to consider the sovereignty of the state as well as giving negotiation space and other alternatives prior to military intervention (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.207). The proposal included the responsibility while protecting (RWP) rather than the R2P in which the Security Council agree on criteria to embrace alternatives before applying the R2P military intervention (Evans and Thakur 2013, p.207).

Another contemporary issue is the use of force in Somalia and Bosnia. In both cases, the military interventions have been justified by the decision to protect the humanitarian objective. However, critics feel that the two cases entailed hidden motives that occupied decision-makers of the time (Berdal 2001, p.7). Also in the case of Yugoslavia, the attack was initiated in the name of support and ethnic solidarity which later destroyed the Yugoslav state, resulting in thousands of casualties and refugees (Gagnon 2008, p.130). Some scholars assert that the methods used by the international community to protect civilians of another country cause more harm than it prevents due to its inability to pay insufficient attention to political realities (Snyder and Vinjamuri 2004, p.5).

The Syrian case also has been in the realm of interferences from other states which could be termed as the violation of the state's affairs. The division in the Security Council in 2013 over the interventions in Syria seems to intensify the situation (Gallagher 2014, p.7). At this time the United States and Russia had shown diverged interest on the entire situation with no agreement on the strategy to formulate peace mechanisms. The case intensified as Saudis supported rebels while Iraq and Russia supported Assad (Gallagher 2014, p.7). This case, therefore, presented country sovereignty being subjected to the conflicting interests between key players. For Russia, the intervention was motivated by its relationship with Syria, its opposition to the western interference as well as the opposition of the rebel forces (Gallagher 2014, p.7). On the other side, U.S had priorities of nuclear-talks with Iran. Nonetheless, critics assert that the U.S had motives beyond peace that targeted the regime instead of the crime. In her claim on the Assad’s case, former U.S Secretary of state asserted that Assad would be judged by “what he does and not what he says” (Gallagher 2014, p.8). In that case, the U.S. would infer intent by evaluating the behavior of the regime's policies (Gallagher 2014, p.8). In a critical view the case as presented by Gallagher (2014), the judgment is dependent on the states' policy which would mean that any intervention would be applied in a change of a regime.

Mixed motives continue to dominate the issue of humanitarian interventions as the international law fails to recognize the difference between war and humanitarian intervention (Paris 2014, p.572). In that case, any intervention to defend civilians would fall under the jurisdiction of the humanitarian action. The mixed reactions are due to the unrealistic of the existence of military intervention solely motivated by humanitarian consideration (Paris 2014, p.572). One of the assumptions in this regard is the increased cost of military operation that may motivate a country to intervene while putting into consideration the interest of their people (Paris 2014, p.573). Another school of thoughts is that an intervention that is purely altruistic is unrealistic to expect and that prospective interveners always considers their interest.


States from across the globe have relied on their sovereign authority to exercise different mandates under the jurisdiction of their territories and in accordance with specified law. In that case, the internal affairs of such countries are not to be interfered with by other players or the international community. However, the redefinition of sovereignty to mean the responsibility to protect host citizens has changed the traditional meaning of a sovereign state. The provision or the evolution of the responsibility to protect term has given the international community an authority to intervene in cases where the host country is failing it its mandate to protect the civilians from genocides and other crimes against humanity. However, some countries or the interveners have exceeded this mandate by causing more harm than the initial status of the countries. Also, interveners have collectively shown support for the situation rather than formulating curbing mechanisms, and thus they have been termed as moved by mixed motives. In some instances, Great power countries have been seen to violate the sovereign and some measure of the international communities which ideally lead to undermining of states sovereign authority.


Berdal, M. R., 2001. Lessons Not learned: the use of force in peace operations in the 1990s. 1st ed. s.l.: International peacekeeping.

Crossley, N., 2015. Humanitarian Intervention: from Le Droit d'ingerence to the responsibility to protect, London: s.n.

Evans, G. " Thakur, R., 2013. Correspondence: humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. International security, 37(4), pp. 199-214.

Gagnon, V. P., 2008. Ethnic Nationalism and international conflict. International security, 19(3), pp. 103-166.

Gallagher, A. M., 2014. Syria and the indicators of a "manifest failing." The international journal of human right, 18(1), pp. 1-19.

Glanville, L., 2014. Sovereignty and the responsibility to protect: a new history. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Hopgood, S., 2014. The last rites for humanitarian intervention: Darfur, Sri Lanka, and R2P. Global Responsibility to protect, Volume 6, pp. 181-205.

Paris, R., 2014. The responsibility to protect and the structural problem of preventive humanitarian intervention. International Peacekeeping, 21(5), pp. 569-603.

Snyder, J. " Vinjamuri, L., 2004. Trials and Errors: Principle and pragmatism in strategies of international justice. International security, 28(3), pp. 5-44.

Teitel, R., 2008. Humanity law: a new interpretive lens on the international sphere. Fordham law review, 77(2), pp. 667-702.

Vinjamuri, L., 2016. The international criminal court and the paradox of authority. Law and contemporary problems, Volume 79, pp. 275-287.

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