Humanitarian Intervention and the Iraq War: On Target?

As evidence of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and pre-war ties to terrorism remains elusive, Washington and London increasingly point to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s brutal government to justify the invasion.

The World Today Published 1 February 2004 Updated 9 December 2020 4 minute READ

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a murderous despot, but few consider that alone enough to warrant humanitarian intervention. At least people have been freed from one of the world’s most ruthless tyrants, they note. This humanitarian intervention argument was only occasionally mentioned before the war and was clearly not a dominant motivation for the invasion. Now that it has emerged as perhaps the strongest remaining justification, it is worth examining seriously.

Because of the death, destruction and disorder that are often inherent in war and its aftermath, proponents of humanitarian intervention, among whom I include myself, generally insist that a variety of conditions be met to justify a military invasion on human rights grounds.

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