What can be done when governments and leaders in states do not abide to
internationally codified norms and values? The Westphalian order allows
regimes to claim their domestic sovereignty over and above minimum standards
of universally established normative frameworks, not least with regard to human
rights. Is such a protective shield more legitimate than externally initiated
interventions when basic norms are violated? Or is it not a matter of conscience
and loyalty to fundamental human values if not a form of solidarity to take a
stance against such injustices in the absence of any legitimacy of such forms of
rule among the own people in these countries? The role of the United Nations,
advocating a Responsibility to Protect and representing the most advanced form
of institutionalised global governance, is hereby critical. This article discusses the
options at hand when confronted with crimes against humanity. It pays special attention to the understanding represented by Dag Hammarskjöld as second
Secretary-General, his view of the international civil servant and the obligations
of the United Nations to advance rights for people, at times against their rulers.
This is the slightly updated paper originally presented to the Fifth Dag Hammarskjöld
Commemorative Seminar at the Africa University, Mutare, Zimbabwe, 4–6 November 2009.