In "Reflections on Intervention," Kofi Atta Annan begins by saying that the audience will probably assume that he is about to preach a sermon against intervention, as this would be "the traditional line for a citizen of a former British colony to take." Moreover, the Charter of the United Nations forbids it to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of sovereign states.
In everyday life, however, one often construes intervention as benign and necessary. The police intervene to prevent violence and doctors intervene to save lives. The United Nations was established to intervene to prevent conflict or, where this is not possible, to put a stop to it or contain it. The limitation stipulated in the Charter is to confine United Nations interventions to situations "where the international peace is threatened or broken."
However, even the fact that a conflict takes place entirely within the borders of a single country should not be an absolute bar to intervention. In the First World War, 90% of all casualties were soldiers. In the Second World War, even taking into account the millions killed in concentration camps, about half those who died were combatants. In modern conflicts, most of which are civil wars, the vast majority of casualties are civilian. The Charter of the United Nations protects the peoples of those nations, not the governments, and the United Nations should protect human rights even within the borders of a single country. Genocide is a particular cause for concern. Annan points out:
Since genocide is almost always committed with the connivance, if not the direct participation, of the State authorities, it is hard to see how the United Nations could prevent it without intervening in a State's internal affairs.
In such cases, the United Nations has a duty to intervene. Annan concludes by drawing a parallel with the national law of France, in which there is a crime called "failure to assist a person in danger." Francois Mitterrand, he believes, had this law in mind when he congratulated the United Nations Security Council for its intervention in the internal affairs of Iraq. It is the proper role of the United Nations to intervene when it is necessary to do so to save the lives of people in danger.