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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Re(writing) the rule of law : text and expertise in humanitarian intervention Bruch, Elizabeth Marie


This dissertation examines humanitarian intervention through the texts and experts of human rights field work in inter-governmental organization (IGO) missions in conflict and post-conflict situations. Humanitarian intervention, understood as coercive collective intervention by the ‘international community’ against a state to protect the population(s) within that state, is one of the most challenging and controversial issues in international law and policy today. Humanitarian intervention involves the exercise of geo-political and institutional power, and it requires the massive mobilization of personnel and resources from around the world in complex and on-going projects of peacekeeping and nation building. Although humanitarian intervention is largely justified in the name of human rights and the rule of law, there has been little empirical study of the institutions and individuals conducting the work of human rights and the rule of law in contexts of intervention. Human rights field officers are primary actors as translators, instructors, advocates and practitioners of the rule of law in the field of humanitarian intervention. This research uses an approach of Institutional Ethnography, informed by Actor-Network Theory, to understand the dynamics of human rights field work in IGO field missions. Its approach is to trace relations of power in humanitarian intervention through an empirical investigation into how law is constituted, deployed, adapted, and redefined in human rights field work. This project relies upon in-depth interviews with human rights field officers and analysis of three central categories of texts – international treaties, UN Security Council resolutions, and human rights field reports. This research examines law in the everyday context, but in humanitarian intervention that context is an exceptional one, and both law and expertise take on particular significance in the field. The texts of law cross temporal and spatial scales to establish normative frameworks, create institutions, deploy personnel, and assess outcomes. The experts deployed to the field are uniquely empowered as impartial outsiders, even as they are connected to and imbricated in larger networks of rule. Close consideration of the texts of international law and the everyday work of field officers offers important insights into this emerging exercise of institutional and global governance.

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