Occupation as Liberation: International Humanitarian Law and Regime Change

Can the justice of a postconflict settlement be anything other than victor’s justice? This article will examine that question through the lens of military occupation. Long an accepted element of war at a time when war itself was not illegal, complicated rules outlining the rights and responsibilities of an occupying power developed over the nineteenth century. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, the prohibition of the use of force enshrined in the UN Charter—designed “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”3—made occupation law something of an embarrassment. Though the latter part of that century was not noted for the absence of conflict, occupation law itself was rarely invoked. The abolition of colonialism and the condemnation of occupation in the 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations led some to question whether occupation law had fallen into desuetude.