This Book Review uses Michael Barnett's argument that the United Nations (UN) refrained from intervening to stop the Rwandan genocide out of considered self-interest as a case-study through which to examine whether absolute rights exist in practice. The UN's actions in Rwanda represent a staggering failure to protect absolute rights, namely, the Rwandan people's right to freedom from genocide. The Rwandan case-study demonstrates that absolute rights, which have an impressive pedigree in legal and philosophical scholarship, are nothing more than a theoretical ideal-they are non-existent in practice. Nonetheless, there are hopeful signs, such as the international community's 1999 intervention in Kosovo, that absolute rights need not be "dead" as a useful concept. In order to maintain relevance as practical, as opposed to normative, ideals, absolute rights must be given greater priority in policymaking, allowing the existing, powerful regime of human rights law to prevent future absolute rights catastrophes.
Michael J. O'Donnell,
Genocide, the United Nations, and the Death of Absolute Rights,
B.C. Third World L.J.