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The Drama of Humanitarian Intervention

Natalie Joy Marrer

1. Introduction

Texte intégral

So many of the stories we tell about human rights missions have a similar plot: a knight bursts forth from his domain, has a number of adventures crossing borders, foiling enemies or bonding friendships, and eventually reaches the land beyond the pale, returning with tales aplenty. Bad actors are exposed, shamed. Victims are avenged. (Kennedy 2009, 99)

1In the drama of humanitarian intervention, the unreliable narrator will attempt to be cast in a particular role: the aim is to appear as the hero of the play, the saviour of humanity. If this prelusive story might have come to appear natural to us, it is far from the reality. The knight does not simply burst forth; they decide to do so with an aim in mind. His adventures may cause destruction and harm to the target population. Who the ‘bad’ actor is may not be so clear, and the victims might not feel avenged. The tales which are told will be constructed in such a way as to avoid tarnishing the shining armour of the knight. And the law? The law is only part of the script, and a prop in the play, which various characters might use and invoke for different purposes.

2Using a critical narratological approach, this paper will attempt to unmask unreliable narration in the context of humanitarian intervention, through an analysis of both the political and legal rhetoric of the main characters. It begins by setting the scene and explaining the added value of this approach, which is linked to the centrality of cognitive frames. The chapter entitled ‘Exposition’ provides the reader with the necessary background information, explaining the roles cast and the rhetorical props of human rights and humanity law. Following the structure of classical dramas, the plot section will provide practical examples and trace the rhetorical shift from humanitarian intervention to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The final chapters focus on the unreliable narrator in a world of paradoxes and conflation, ending in a non-conclusion.

3This summary of content is deliberately vague and is meant to appear facile. Without giving away too much of the moral of the story, the goal is to foster self-reflection. If it is true that one of the most telling features of the narrative dimension of law is that it creates authority, by establishing what we perceive as natural (Bianchi 2016, 292), it should also go without saying that we need to delve deeper into the complex relationship between the told, the teller and its telling, to unearth questions buried by our own assumptions, and that we might not even be aware of.


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