By the end of the 19th Century, it was recognized by those concerned with human rights that the nation-state was a destructive anachronism. It was an entity that seemed addicted to periodic spasms of mass violence, particularly in the form of war carried out with little or no regard for non-combatants or other restraining factors.
As a consequence, efforts began aimed at creating instruments of international law — treaties, conventions and other agreements — to modify state behavior in such areas as the treatment of prisoners and the victimization of civilian populations.
Progress was spotty until the very end of World War II, when various human rights charters came into existence as a part of the United Nations. Through that institution, provision was made – albeit in very narrowly defined circumstances – for the fielding of UN military forces (the famous Blue Helmets) to try to enforce peace and protect civilian populations. Other institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), were also eventually brought into existence.
The post-war move to expand international law to cover human rights and provide enforcement measures was all for the good, and in the future it will hopefully prove a powerful precedent that can be built upon. But this period of progress did not last long. It soon gave way to a hypocritical selective application of humanitarian law.
The truth is that today only those nations which are relatively weak and have no great power patronage are in any danger of being called to task for gross violations of human rights. If you are the leader of some small African or Balkan state and you go on some ethnically or religiously inspired rampage, you run a real risk of being charged with crimes against humanity and hauled before the ICC, while the UN Security Council votes to send military forces into your country.