Editor's note: This article is adapted from a paper presented at a workshop, "Human Rights Go to War," that was convened by DAWN and co-sponsored by the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School.
A number of organizations whose work includes a focus on international humanitarian law and armed conflict—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and International Crisis Group among them—support or have supported the problematic concept of military intervention for "humanitarian" reasons, typically involving calling on a state or coalition of states to intervene in a situation of armed conflict in another country to stop or prevent mass atrocities. Such support for military intervention is ripe for review and reform, not only because it is inconsistent with organizational mandates to uphold human rights and international laws and norms, but because it serves to perpetuate armed conflict and excessively militarized Western foreign policies.
Organizational criteria for calling for humanitarian interventions generally require a determination that such intervention will cause more good—i.e., stopping or preventing atrocities—than harm—i.e., death, destruction and destabilization due to the proposed military intervention. While the United Nations Charter authorizes war only in self-defense or pursuant to U.N. Security Council authorization, some groups permit humanitarian intervention even in the absence of that authorization, while others limit such interventions only if authorized by the Security Council.
Criticisms of rights-focused organizations whose mandates authorize calls for humanitarian intervention—separate and distinct from critiques of humanitarian intervention, per se—have focused on the inconsistency of these organizations' work to promote human rights, including the right to life, with work to promote war, even if for stated humanitarian ends. Such permissive mandates also appear premised on preconceived notions of American or Western exceptionalism, as calls for such intervention exclusively have been made to the U.S. government and/or Western European states, assuming that they and their war efforts are and will be inherent forces of "good," oblivious to or forgiving of their recorded recent atrocities around the world.
Another troubling aspect of calls for humanitarian intervention is that they are made in individual cases of armed conflict involving atrocities. Such case-by-case decision-making amplifies the blind spot in evaluating the broader harms of excessive militarism and war-making by the U.S. and other Western states, treating each crisis that prompts calls for humanitarian intervention, and the appropriate response to it, as sui generis. Organizations also exercise problematic selectivity in deciding which situations of atrocities to reward with consideration for humanitarian intervention. There is no record of any of these organizations considering such intervention where the culprits behind the atrocities or possible atrocities are allies of the U.S. or Western European states, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia. Finally, there is an inconsistency in stated positions of neutrality in armed conflict, typically refusing to pass judgment on the initiation of military aggression or war and which prohibit Human Rights Watch, for example, from making calls for cease-fires, versus positions that permit calling for war if for stated "humanitarian" reasons.
To address these concerns, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) has proposed a series of recommendations urging human rights and other advocacy organizations that have policies authorizing calls for humanitarian intervention to revise them, and to develop programmatic work to take seriously and prioritize the right to life under international law, including pushing for an end to armed conflicts and arms sales globally.
The Right to Life Versus the Laws of War
International human rights groups and advocacy organizations generally subscribe to, and declare that they are guided by, international human rights law and treaties. Such treaties include Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life."
There is an inherent conflict between the notion of a right to life and the laws of war, which provide guidelines for lawful killing in times of armed conflict. This conflict is bridged with the general understanding that killings in times of armed conflict that do not violate international humanitarian law do not constitute an "arbitrary" deprivation of life. Nevertheless, there is no war that does not entail the loss of life due to laws of war violations. Indeed widespread and systematic disregard of international humanitarian law leading to arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians is the global norm. The reality is that wars, in practice, always entail violations of the human right to life.
The notion of a "humanitarian" intervention was first invoked at the U.N. in the 1991 Iraq war, when the Security Council authorized foreign troops to protect Kurdish refugees returning to northern Iraq. This led to the imposition of no-fly zones in northern Iraq by the United States and in southern Iraq by the United Kingdom, authorizing attacks on Iraqi planes operating in sovereign Iraqi territory. The NATO intervention in Kosovo, the first such military intervention without Security Council authorization, followed, with NATO justifying its bombardment of Kosovo as a humanitarian effort to save besieged Kosovars and ethnic Albanians. It was propelled by the prior massacre in 1995 of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, in Bosnia, where the international community was condemned for its inaction. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo subsequently declared the Kosovo bombardment by NATO "illegal but legitimate" and called for a new international convention for humanitarian intervention.
These and other conflicts in the 1990s involving civilian atrocities, in Rwanda, in particular, led many organizations to articulate calls for "humanitarian" military intervention—that is, a military intervention to prevent atrocities, despite the conflict with their commitment to protecting the right to life. A particularly controversial and critical feature of such calls is that they allowed the endorsement of military interventions even if they breached prohibitions on the use of force in the U.N. Charter, which recognizes lawful military intervention only as an act of self-defense or if authorized by the U.N..
Such calls also conflicted with the stated neutrality of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which generally refuse to take a position condemning an armed conflict per se or to call for cease-fires in armed conflicts. As Amnesty explains, and similar to Human Rights Watch, it "generally neither condemns nor condones the resort to the use of force in international relations, nor does it make any comments or pass judgment on the arguments justifying the use of force." Humanitarian arguments to justify calls for the use of force are, of course, the exception to this.
Support for military intervention is ripe for review and reform, not only because it is inconsistent with organizational mandates to uphold human rights and international laws and norms, but because it serves to perpetuate armed conflict and excessively militarized Western foreign policies.
- Sarah Leah Whitson
What follows is a brief and likely incomplete survey of the record of leading rights and armed conflict organizations in calls for humanitarian intervention, based on discussions with staff and a review of the policies and publications of these organizations.
Human Rights Watch adopted its policy on humanitarian intervention in 1996, on "The International Use of Military Force" (copy on file with DAWN). It articulated the criteria that it would consider before calling for humanitarian intervention by a state or states even in the absence of Security Council authorization: mass atrocities or threatened mass atrocities; exhaustion of alternatives to military intervention in a pending conflict, for example, diplomacy, such that intervention was truly a last resort; and a determination that intervention was likely to do more good than harm. While Human Rights Watch otherwise states that it is neutral in situations of armed conflict and investigates only compliance with the laws of war, it has not articulated how calls for military intervention by a state or states in an armed conflict accord with its general position of neutrality. Other organizations that have endorsed intervention generally apply the same criteria.
Prior to the formal adoption of this policy, Human Rights Watch endorsed humanitarian military interventions in Iraq in 1991, in support of the no-fly zones enforced by the U.S. and the U.K., as well as interventions in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and East Timor. But since then, it has never formally and publicly invoked this policy. Human Rights Watch did articulate why the U.S. military intervention in Iraq in 2003 did not qualify as a "humanitarian intervention." And its staff extensively debated but ultimately decided not to call for humanitarian interventions in Libya and in Syria, with two "all-staff" meetings on intervention in Syria taking place over the course of its civil war. These debates happened during intense public calls for non-U.N. authorized interventions in both Libya and Syria, but Human Rights Watch never shared publicly its decision not to call for these military interventions. As a result of the debate about the criteria and procedures in the intervention policy as it pertained to Libya, Human Rights Watch slightly amended its policy in 2012.
At about the same time as Human Rights Watch, in 2005, Amnesty's global governance body adopted a new, exceptional policy on military intervention, and in 2016 issued detailed guidelines on how the policy could be implemented (on file at DAWN). The policy was preceded and followed by intense internal debates, particularly regarding any organizational permission to call for military intervention. Notably, Amnesty International's policy has much stricter guardrails than Human Rights Watch's; most significantly, it requires that it may call only for a U.N.-authorized use of force and only in conformity with international law.
Amnesty's original guidelines noted that it had not yet developed a policy on Resolution 1674, adopted unanimously by the Security Council in 2006, on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which is widely understood to allow military intervention to protect civilians. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group cited the resolution in a 2006 letter to the Security Council urging it to authorize military force in Sudan as a "key test of the Security Council's commitment to the concept of responsibility to protect." Amnesty International later declined to call for military intervention in Syria amid its civil war and publicly stated that it had declined to do so. This was itself a difficult and controversial position to take at a time when senior officials in the U.S., British and French governments were seeking civil society support for the unilateral military interventions they were contemplating against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, especially after its use of chemical weapons against civilians in 2013.
While Amnesty International's general position remains that it does not comment on the legality or desirability of particular military interventions or other forms of armed conflicts, its new 2016 policy allows it to both support and oppose the use of military force across international borders, subject to internal criteria and protocols. In April 2022, Amnesty International issued its first such call, condemning Russia's invasion in Ukraine as an "act of aggression" that violated the U.N. Charter, apparently invoking this policy. The policy strongly reaffirms that Amnesty International will not take a position on the intra-state use of force, explaining it must avoid taking sides in internal armed conflicts. It also explicitly authorizes the organization to call for cease-fires, but only if such a call could not be seen as providing a military advantage to either warring party.
There is much less information available about the records and policies of other organizations. Physicians for Human Rights advocated military intervention in Kosovo in August 1998 and went further to press for ground troops in January 1999, while cautioning against the probable impact of a bombing campaign on civilians. When bombing started, Physicians for Human Rights criticized its civilian impact but did not call for its cessation.
International Crisis Group has deliberately avoided a formal policy on military intervention, stating that it takes each episode of armed conflict on a case-by-case basis. It endorsed humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and also in Libya, but only as a backstop to its preferred option of diplomatic negotiations. In 2012, its then-president and CEO, Louise Arbour, also had advocated for regime change as an appropriate goal if humanitarian intervention were undertaken. In Syria, when it last considered calling for military intervention, it issued a report in 2015 making a half-pregnant recommendation to the U.S. for limited measures of military intervention, including the imposition of a no-fly zone in southern Syria. International Crisis Group does, however, issue calls for cease-fires and condemn invasions, without any policy restrictions to restrict the positions it takes on these issues.
The standard criteria for invoking military intervention are themselves highly problematic, subjective and entail a tremendous amount of guessing and hoping for the best. What constitutes "mass atrocities" or even more vaguely the "risk of mass atrocities"; whether military means are indeed a "last resort"; and, most significantly, whether the benefits of intervention will outweigh the harms—these are difficult questions to answer at any time. But they are particularly difficult to answer in a time of emergency and international pressure, where there is an overwhelming sentiment of wanting to do "something" and needing to be seen as such, in the face of a crisis that risks the lives of vulnerable populations.
There is no generally agreed criteria for what specifically constitutes "mass atrocities" besides defining them as "large-scale systematic violence against civilian populations." The Early Warning Project has proposed 1,000 as a minimal number of civilian deaths to qualify as mass atrocities, but there is no consensus on this. There is even less understanding of what circumstances would allow us to conclude that atrocities are "likely" or "imminent," even though they haven't happened yet. Take the recent conflict in Libya, where Security Council Resolution 1073 authorized military intervention for humanitarian reasons—"to take all necessary measures"—to prevent atrocities against Libyans revolting against Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, at a time when his forces had killed approximately 350 protesters in eastern Libya. The Security Council cited these attacks as crimes against humanity but specifically noted the need to protect civilians in the eastern city of Benghazi, which Gadhafi said he would storm to end the revolt against his regime. The NATO-led intervention then went on to become a regime change operation, as NATO forces bombarded the capital, Tripoli, and other key cities, targeting Gaddafi and his defeated convoy as they fled back in western Libya.
Nevertheless, there was widespread, global sentiment that Gadhafi was a uniquely evil tyrant who needed to be stopped, propelled at least in part by broad public sympathy for the Arab uprisings, as well as evidence of thousands of protesters in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen who had been gunned down by their own governments. In none of these other countries did any human rights organizations advocate for military intervention while attacks on protesters were underway, but Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group did consider making such a call for Libya. There was no general questioning whether these deaths were a sufficient mass, either relative to other atrocities, or as a unique event, to justify a military intervention that would (and did) cost at least as many civilian lives.
It is time for human rights organizations and other advocacy groups to evolve, as the broader policy community and public have evolved, in their criticisms of the U.S. and Western role in fueling wars and abuses around the world, many in the name of humanitarian intervention.
- Sarah Leah Whitson
Human Rights Watch ultimately declined to make a call for humanitarian intervention in Libya because no persuasive case was presented internally that there had been, or would be, mass atrocities in the thousands, but the organization never amended its policy to provide numerical or qualitative benchmarks to define what constituted "mass atrocities." However, senior officials in the organization made statements supporting a humanitarian intervention, such that Human Rights Watch was widely seen as having endorsed the NATO intervention. Human Rights Watch notably did not put out a statement saying it had deliberated but declined to endorse intervention. International Crisis Group, by contrast, only called for military intervention in Libya as a backstop if diplomacy failed.
It is perhaps this criteria, more than any other, of invoking "mass atrocities" to justify a call for military intervention, that subjects human rights and other advocacy organizations to appropriate charges of selectivity, where attention to and general sympathy for one party of a conflict appears dictated by media and political exigencies, as opposed to objective criteria of mass atrocities themselves. As noted, no such organization urged military intervention to protect civilians during violent attacks against protesters in Egypt or Yemen, which included well-documented atrocities, at the very same time as the Libya intervention was being debated. Similarly and in striking parallel, though many endorsed NATO's 1999 military intervention in Kosovo citing the deaths of 1,500 civilians there in 1998, no one called for a military intervention in Palestine after the start of the Second Intifada, when Israeli forces killed 1,500 Palestinian civilians between 2000 and 2002. By the time the Second Intifada ended, some 3,000 Palestinian civilians had been killed by Israeli forces.
There has also been no call for humanitarian intervention in Yemen since the joint Saudi-Emirati war began there in 2015, backed by the U.S.—a war that has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, due primarily to indiscriminate and deliberate Saudi and Emirati attacks on civilians as well as their unlawful land, sea and air blockade on the country. Had there been a delay in U.S. and Western European military support for Ukraine following Russia's invasion, it would have been interesting to see if human rights and advocacy organizations would have considered a call for military intervention there, given their lack of such calls in Yemen.
The notion of military force as a "last resort" is another difficult criteria to establish, laden as it is with subjective and often faulty determinations based on incomplete available information. There are many legitimate lines of inquiry that are at best debatable but very unlikely to provide an answer with certainty that military intervention is truly a last resort: the extent to which diplomatic efforts have sincerely been tried; the extent to which covert military interventions frustrating any pretense of diplomacy may already be underway, as was the case in Syria; the extent to which political, military and economic interests are pushing for a military intervention and downplaying or undermining the prospects of alternative options for conflict resolution.
The most important but most glaringly difficult, if not impossible, criteria for human rights and advocacy organizations to satisfy before endorsing humanitarian intervention is that the military intervention is more likely to do good than harm. Given the extent to which the very notion of military intervention conflicts with, even undermines, core mandates to uphold human rights, including the right to life, there should be a very strong and very clear conclusion that a military intervention would do more good than harm prior to the call for such intervention. Yet there seems to be no practical, realistic way for any organization to reach such a conclusion.
The very process of asking the question of "good" versus "harm" tends to further expose the biases of the organizations themselves, fraught as it is with notions of trust. Whether asked from a narrow and conflict-specific examination of the particular facts and actors in a war, or looking more broadly at the historical and global records of these actors in armed conflicts, the answers often depend on the worldviews, backgrounds and personal experiences of the organization's staff, as opposed to a neutral evaluation of objective criteria.
Syria is a revealing case study. Those advocating for unilateral military intervention by the U.S. in Syria ultimately believed as an article of faith in the capacity of the U.S. government to be a good and reliable actor whose primary motivation was to save Syrian civilians, overlooking or downplaying all other facts and context. That includes the U.S. record in neighboring Iraq, which was devastated by the American invasion and occupation, falsely sold to Americans as a humanitarian intervention. The war led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, while U.S. forces detained thousands of Iraqis subjecting many to grotesque abuses. Despite ongoing U.S. military support for other regimes in the very same region committing atrocities at the very same time as Syria's uprising-turned-civil war, staff at human rights organizations pushing for American military intervention remained convinced that the U.S. would be an agent of "good" in Syria. Whatever harm an intervention would cost Syrian civilians in the short or long run, it would be "worth it," as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had called the devastating sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s.
It is one thing for U.S. government officials to argue such a conclusion, but highly problematic for an international organization with a declared commitment only to the human rights of people around the world and the rule of law. Interestingly, the MENA division of Human Rights Watch, who were overwhelmingly from the region and had decades of first-hand experience of U.S. military actions there, unanimously opposed the call for military intervention in Syria on the two occasions when the organization contemplated it. Every other regional division of Human Rights Watch subsequently joined them in rejecting a call for intervention.
At the second such debate that Human Rights Watch convened internally, some in the State Department were actively soliciting the organization's endorsement of U.S. military intervention, after evidence of the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons reignited a call for President Barack Obama to enforce his "red line" through U.S. military force. It was evidence of the extent to which Human Rights Watch's position was seen as helpful to validating that military intervention. But a last-minute deal for Syria to abandon its chemical weapons arsenal, negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, diffused the pressure on Obama, and Human Rights Watch held back on making a call for military intervention, although senior officials at the organization still took public positions that endorsed it.
Finally, the very absence of criteria to answer the question regarding "good" versus "harm" means the answer is always incomplete. For one, judging the good that results from preventative intervention is factually impossible to measure, as it will always remain entirely speculative, absent a written record of imminent plans to massacre tens of thousands of civilians. And while the theoretical good of "lives saved" is happily deposited on one side of the ledger, the anticipated harms—prolonging war with the introduction of new military resources; regionalizing and internationalizing a domestic conflict into a proxy battlefield, to name two in the case of Syria—can be casually dismissed as speculative or remote.
There is also a particular shortsightedness in endorsing military intervention as a measure that will do more good than harm, which buys into the notion that the causes and consequences of armed conflict begin and end with the fighting of the moment, and that lives can be saved at the barrel of bigger, stronger guns. Even the "successful" intervention of Kosovo in 1999 was not a mere act of a short military intervention, but required, and still requires, the presence of NATO peacekeeping troops in the country more than 20 years later. A realistic and honest call for intervention would have to contemplate decades of peacekeeping and humanitarian, economic and political support for the country, likely pursuant to the presence of decades of occupation forces. That, in all likelihood, would not be a call that any state or human rights organization would find acceptable to make, especially given the U.S. track record for state-building.
There are internal and external dangers of human rights organizations and other advocacy groups endorsing humanitarian intervention, including a drain on organizational resources, increased security risks to staff and costs to an organization's mission and reputation.
Any new conflict inevitably ends up draining the attention of large numbers of staff in any such organization, as staff and programmatic priorities are shifted to cover the conflict. It's the curse of conflict work that these organizations, like humanitarian groups and news media, get pulled to the latest emerging story, even if the "last" war is still raging. A determination on humanitarian intervention amid real world pressures of investigating and exposing violations of international humanitarian law is a massive additional weight of stress and pressure on staff, who get tied up debating not only the merits of such a determination in the particular case based on organizational criteria, but also whether it's an appropriate determination for the organization ever to make at all.
Calls for military intervention, or even debates about them, also expose to the public the biases and selectivity of human rights and advocacy organizations at a critical time when their standing as independent, value-based organizations is more important than ever. Even if a determination is not formally made, the fact that some in the organization are seen to have endorsed it, or news of a debate gets leaked, contributes to the appearance of politicization and disunity. Staff based in the region where such intervention is being considered face actual risk of retaliatory violence.
More significantly, if the endorsed interveners themselves then carry out killings and other abuses, these harms become, in effect, the responsibility of the organizations that called for armed humanitarian intervention. They will be seen as having contributed to the abuses themselves, undermining the mission of their organization to uphold human rights for all. At the same time, and particularly for Western-based organization, support for intervention exposes an arrogance in making a decision to call for war—an act that always entails killing—in a foreign country, without the consent of the invaded. While partisans to a conflict inside a country may well seek foreign military intervention for a variety of reasons, many political, it is impossible for a human rights or advocacy organization to seek or obtain the consent of the invaded, who will bear the brunt of any intervention.
The Myth of Neutrality
Some international human rights groups and advocacy organizations will argue that they generally do not take sides in an armed conflict or examine the legality or "just cause" of a war, in order to preserve their ability to conduct "impartial" investigations into violations of the laws of war. In addition, they argue, a strict position of neutrality ensures access to conflict territory similar to that of humanitarian organizations and a degree of safety for staff as neutral investigators. Typically, these human rights groups and advocacy organizations will go out of their way to examine abuses by "all sides" to a conflict to maintain this appearance of neutrality. (Often this is largely make-work for the staff, driven by the need to maintain public appearances of neutrality as opposed to a legitimate prioritization of genuinely significant abuses.)
The position of neutrality admirably avoids interminable debates of who started it, who broke the cease-fire and, most broadly, whose fault the war is. But in choosing to endorse wars for humanitarian reasons, some human rights and advocacy organizations cast aside their neutrality without apparent discomfort with the inconsistency of their position. Concerns about avoiding the appearance of partisanship, ensuring the acceptance of their investigations as credible, and securing access and safety for staff seem to lose their importance when the imperative of calling for a noble, humanitarian war is on the table. This exception, however rarely invoked, means that justifications for avoiding anti-war activism because it would be seen as partisan, and is often dismissed as mere "pacifism," ring hollow.
At the same time, no further exception to the policy of neutrality, like calling for a cease-fire or a halt in hostilities for humanitarian reasons—a "humanitarian cease-fire," if you will—is condoned, at least not by Human Rights Watch, because, it is argued, it would violate the rule of neutrality. Further justifications for banning any call for the cessation of violence is that it might make the organization appear too pacifist, or that it would happen so frequently that it would undermine the credibility of its investigations of international humanitarian law. While calling for war, however exceptionally or illegally, is permitted, calling for peace, however exceptionally if never illegally, is prohibited.
Amnesty International's 2005 policy allowing it to oppose a military intervention in exceptional circumstances breaks with this tradition but has only been invoked recently in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Its general policy is still that it will remain neutral on the issue of military intervention. Interestingly, Amnesty International's policy notes that where it has opposed an intervention that it considers illegal, it could oppose all killings that resulted from the intervention, rather than only those that violate international humanitarian law.
This myth of neutrality, particularly at Human Rights Watch, reveals not only a problem of internal, organizational inconsistency, but a broader bias of the organization to recognize and internalize the precepts of U.S. primacy in the world. This approach seems particularly marked at International Crisis Group, as well, taking U.S. military dominance and leadership as a given political reality, assuming its overall benevolence, and never concerning itself with the damage wrought by the U.S. by virtue of its militarism and interventionism. While these and other human rights and advocacy organizations may document and condemn particular U.S. abuses, such as indiscriminate airstrikes in Syria, torture in Iraq or even the use of U.S. weapons to terrorize civilians in Yemen, there is no writ large conceptualization or evaluation of the harms of U.S. policy.
Investigations focusing on particular incidents of unlawful conduct in war, or reports focusing on conflicts in particular countries, monopolize organizational time and focus on the "trees," with scant attention to the "forest," including the role of powerful, wealthy enabling governments, like the U.S and U.K., whose policies and arms sales help drive these conflicts. Even seemingly positive outcomes, like civilian casualty reporting requirements in U.S. legislation, have a dark side, suggesting that most U.S. war efforts are lawful.
The internalized and biased perception of the U.S. and Western Europe as global leaders for good distracts and diverts from critically needed work by human rights organizations to challenge Western primacy in ordering world affairs. They ought to hold these governments to the same human rights and international humanitarian law standards as states more routinely criticized, from China to Russia. The double standard in treating Western states as intrinsically more trustworthy and responsible stewards of global interests is also apparent in the reflexive distrust of other actors.
Washington and other Western capitals remain the centers of so much advocacy for military intervention, punitive sanctions and other actions in countries around the world, with both spoken and unspoken assumptions that the U.S. and Western Europe will act in a benevolent manner to uphold human rights. Critical advocacy of U.S. or Western misconduct is muted and underfunded, for reasons of subjective bias and fear of losing access and credibility in these powerful capitals and hampering the career prospects of staff who may seek eventual jobs in government.
The war in Ukraine is an appropriate coda for consideration. Amnesty International has opposed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but are Amnesty and other organizations remiss in their commitment to preserving the right to life of Ukrainians and Russians if these organizations have not challenged the war's continued escalation, including the influx of billions of dollars in Western arms, or pushed for diplomatic off-ramps? Will it really be enough for these organizations to document abuses by "all sides" but never call for a cease-fire, while not questioning the harm that will come to Ukraine if the war drags on for years, as is now predicted? As it is, even the slightest condemnation of the conduct of Ukrainian forces or critique of expanded sanctions against Russia invite widespread backlash for being "pro-Russia" or offering appeasement for its crimes.
It is time for human rights organizations and other advocacy groups to evolve, as the broader policy community and public have evolved, in their criticisms of the U.S. and Western role in fueling wars and abuses around the world, like the "forever wars" launched after 9/11, many in the name of humanitarian intervention. Staffed by experts with privileged access and influence, many of whom are based in the U.S. and Europe, these organizations have a greater responsibility to take on the misconduct of the governments, defense industries and foreign government lobbyists where they are based and live up to their commitment to international human rights law.