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Rwanda and the Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention

Joshua James Kassner

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Why the international community should have intervened in Rwanda

Kassner contends that the violation of the basic human rights of the Rwandan Tutsis morally obliged the international community to intervene militarily to stop the genocide. This compelling argument, grounded in basic rights, runs counter to the accepted view on the moral nature of humanitarian intervention. It has profound implications for our understanding of the moral nature of humanitarian military intervention, global justice and the role moral principles should play in the practical deliberations of states.

  • A new approach to the intersection of human and sovereign rights that is of tremendous moral, political and legal importance to theorists working in international relations today
  • Challenges the immutability of the right of non-intervention held by sovereign states, assessing when it becomes right for the international community to intervene militarily in order to avoid another Rwanda


Introduction: Brief History and Overview
1. The Rwandan Genocide, 2. My Project: The Failure of the International Community to Intervene in Rwanda, 3. Overview, 4. Conclusion
Part I – The Groundwork for a Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention
1. Making Conceptual Room: Responding to the Skeptic, 2. Making Conceptual Room: Responding to the Noninterventionist, 3. Methodology: Why a Standard of Reasonable Deniability, 4. Constitutive Elements of a Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention, 5. Conclusion
Part II – Defending a Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention
1. Critical Assessment of Alternative Accounts, 2. The Basic Right to Physical Security: Explication and Analysis, 3. Charity or Justice, 4. Additional Considerations , 5.Conclusion: Statement and Application of Principle
Part III: The Normative Framework of International Relations, 1. The Normative Framework of International Relations, State Sovereignty, and the Right of Nonintervention, 2. Justifying the Right of Nonintervention, 3. Critically Assessing the Justificatory Arguments, 4. Reconstructing the Normative Framework: Lessons Learned, 5. Reasons in Support of a Presumption of Nonintervention, 6. Conclusion: Reconstruction of the Normative Framework
Part IV: Completing the Transition from Theory to Practice
1. Explication of the Responsibility to Protect, 2. Critical Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect, 3. Critically Assessing the ICISS Recommendations for Institutionalization, 4. Normative Guideposts for an Alternative Institutional Structure, 5. A Reformed Normative Framework
Conclusion: Application of the Reformed Normative Framework and Concluding Remarks

About the Author

Joshua James Kassner is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Baltimore. He has published articles in the Journal of Political Philosophy, the Journal of Global Ethics, Contemporary Political Theory and the Human Rights Review.


The horrific moral failure of the world community during the Rwanda tragedy raises some of the most troubling dilemmas about humanitarian military intervention. Joshua Kassner's book responds to these quandaries with admirable clarity and impressive depth.  This is a powerful book on the vexing questions of human wrongs and global responsibilities in our fast emerging globalized world.

- Deen Chatterjee, Senior Advisor and Professorial Fellow, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah and Global Ethics Fellow, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, New York City

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