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Cafe Inquiry

Tuesday, April 30
6:15 pm - 8:15 pm

Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Neighborhood Library
1630 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20001 US

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Organized by:
Center for Inquiry–DC (CFI–DC)


This month’s discussion topic: Humanitarian intervention

Humanitarian intervention, generally, is the use of force against a nation to end human rights violations. Humanitarian intervention, however, is controversial. State sovereignty is a defining principle of modern international law, and the principle of humanitarian intervention offers an exception to broadly understood power of nation-states to govern their internal affairs.

Humanitarian intervention is, arguably, a duty that we owe to others. The most well-known standard for humanitarian intervention after World War II has been genocide. More recently the Canadian government’s issued a report, “The Responsibility to Protect,” that argues that the sovereignty not only gives a State the right to “control” its affairs, but that humanitarian intervention is appropriate when a State fails to protect its people – either through lack of ability or a lack of willingness – the responsibility shifts to the broader international community.

Skeptics argue that humanitarian intervention is used mainly as a pretext for military action, and that it is not possible to fairly apply a standard for humanitarian intervention. Strong nations, like the U.S. or China, do not have to worry about humanitarian intervention but are able to exert military or economic force on weaker nations that violate specific norms or international goals. Skeptics argue that humanitarian intervention is never useful, due to the lack of clearer constraints for when humanitarian intervention, inability to clearly distinguish when intervention is used as a pretext, and inability to “apply” the intervention to more powerful nation-states.

When, if ever, is humanitarian intervention appropriate? Can, and should, it apply equally to all nation-states? Is it effective as a means of redressing humanitarian crises?

After the discussion we will head over to Beau Thai down the street for those who wish to have food and continue the conversation.