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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Humanitarian Intervention and the "Responsibility to Protect"

image of a United Nations soldier

David Hollenbach, SJ, Boston College
Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia University
Alan Wolfe, Boston College

Date: Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010
Time: 5:30PM
Location: Higgins 300

Abstract: What is the world to do when a particular government cannot, or will not, stop large-scale violence and human rights abuses within its borders? What if the state itself is the source of this violence? For the past twenty years "humanitarian intervention" has been the key concept in the debate over international military action to stop such violence within a state. But a new concept called "the responsibility to protect" is gaining ground in the world community, seeking to reframe the debate on state sovereignty and the warrants for military intervention. Join our panel of distinguished scholars as they consider the implications of the "R2P" paradigm for U.S. foreign policy and the international community.


headshot of David Hollenbach, SJ

David Hollenbach, SJ, is the University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College. Professor Hollenbach’s research interests are in the foundation of Christian social ethics, particularly in the areas of the human rights, theory of justice, the common good, and the role of religion in social and political life. He teaches periodically at Hekima College of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Professor Hollenbach’s many publications include The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights, and Christian Ethics (2003), The Common Good and Christian Ethics (2002); Justice, Peace, and Human Rights: American Catholic Social Ethics in a Pluralistic World (1988); Nuclear Ethics: A Christian Moral Argument (1983); and Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition (1979). He is the co-editor most recently of Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations (2005), co-edited with Kenneth R. Himes, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Charles E. Curran, and Thomas Shannon. Professor Hollenbach served as President of the Society of Christian Ethics and is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Religious Ethics. He completed his B.A. at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and his Ph.D. at Yale University. In 1998, Hollenbach received the John Courtney Murray Award for outstanding contributions to theology from the Catholic Theological Society of America.

headshot of Mahmood Mambani

Mahmood Mamdani is the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974 and specializes in the study of African history and politics. His works explore the intersection between politics and culture, a comparative study of colonialism since 1452, the history of civil war and genocide in Africa, the Cold War and the War on Terror, and the history and theory of human rights. Prior to joining the Columbia faculty, Mamdani was a professor at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania (1973-79), Makerere University in Uganda (1980-1993), and the University of Cape Town (1996-1999).  He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including being listed as one of the “Top 20 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy (US) and Prospect (UK) magazine in 2008. From 1998 to 2002 he served as President of CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa). His essays have appeared in the New Left Review and the London Review of books, among other journals.

He teaches courses on: major debates in the study of Africa; the modern state and the colonial subject; the Cold War and the Third World; the theory, history, and practice of human rights; and civil wars and the state in Africa.

Mamdani’s books include Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009); Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror (2004); When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and Genocide in Rwanda (2001); 1996. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (1996), which was awarded the Herskovitz Prize of the African Studies Association; Politics and Class Formation in Uganda(1976); From Citizen to Refugee (1973); and The Myth of Population Control: Family, Class and Caste in an Indian Village (1972).

headshot of Alan Wolfe

Alan Wolfe is the founding director of the Boisi Center and Professor of Political Science at Boston College. He is author of more than a dozen books, including the forthcoming Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It (2011), as well as The Future of Liberalism (2009), Does American Democracy Still Work? (2006), The Transformation of American Religion (2003), Moral Freedom (2001) and One Nation After All (1999). Widely considered one of the nation's most prominent public intellectuals, he is a frequent contributor to the New York TimesWashington PostThe New Republic and The Atlantic, and has delivered lectures across the United States and Europe.

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In the News:

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Do we have a "responsibility to protect" the Libyan protesters? In "Act. Now." (Foreign Policy, 2/24/11), Hussein Ibish argues that the world does have a responsibility to protect the Libyans. In the fall of 2010, David Hollenbach, S.J., Mahmood Mamdani, and Alan Wolfe debated the value of this emerging paradigm. Click here for audio, written remarks, and other resources relating to R2P.

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"Mass Rapes in Congo Reveals U.N. Weakness"

by Jeffrey Gettleman, 10.3.10
The New York Times

The rapes of nearly 500 women in Africa by an ethnic Hutu rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo raises the question of the role of the US in humanitarian intervention. You can listen to an audio recording of a debate about the "Responsibility to Protect," hosted by the Boisi Center in September 2010.