Should Humanitarian Interveners Promote Democracy After Genocide?

Should Humanitarian Interveners Promote Democracy After Genocide?

International Theory, forthcoming.

Scholars and policymakers in the West commonly hold that when liberal countries intervene to stop genocide, they subsequently ought to establish democratic political institutions to enable peaceful collective self-determination. I argue that this guidance is problematic. First, introducing electoral democracy in deeply ethnically divided societies—especially but not only after genocide—often results in either tyrannical majority rule or deadlocked decision making rather than inclusive collective self-determination. Second, normatively speaking, John Rawls made a strong case that inclusive self-determination may be achieved through less-than-democratic, “decent” political structures that enable group-based representation. Bringing these insights together, I argue that for post-genocidal societies that lack prior experience with liberal democratic rule, outside interveners should: a) stop short of promoting Western-style democracy and b) instead consider promoting hybrid political institutions that combine popularly elected bodies with customary authority structures. Such institutions can prevent tyrannical majority rule as well as decision-making deadlock, are likely to provide a better fit with local culture, and hence may offer a more robust foundation for peaceful self-determination. A brief discussion of hybrid institutions in postwar Somaliland and Bougainville illustrates benefits and possible shortcomings of such arrangements.

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