Western hypocrisy, not pride, is the most important message to be taken from the conviction and death sentence imposed on Saddam Hussein following “the mother of all trials”.

We knew for decades that Saddam was mercilessly killing his citizens. We elected to do nothing to stop the brutal practices of Saddam’s Baathist regime until his bogus Weapons of Mass Destruction supposedly started posing a threat to our safety. This is far from an isolated event.

The typical response to dictators who go about summarily killing thousands of people is feigned concern following an isolated news report then the world gets busy doing nothing about it.

The number of people killed in internal conflict since the Second World War massively exceeds the total number of people killed during both major wars. There are some appalling examples of governments massacring their “own” people. In 1994 the genocide in Rwanda resulted in 800,000 people being murdered in 100 days; Pol Pot killed two million and in the 1970s 300,000 people were murdered in Uganda, while 1.5 million were killed in Ethiopia. It’s easy to multiply such examples.

In all cases, the rest of the world knowingly stood idly by – although some of these events sparked “furious” debate at UN headquarters.

The trial of Saddam should be used to put in place a clear framework regarding the obligation of the international community to prevent the mass slaughter of citizens by their own governments.

Previous successful interventions include Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1979; Tanzania’s intervention to remove Idi Amin from Uganda in the same year and NATO’s invasion of Yugoslavia in 1999.

The success of these interventions and the absence of criticism of such action demonstrate that state sovereignty is no barrier to humanitarian interventions. In fact it shows that respect for state sovereignty is an excuse, rather than a reason for the inaction of the world community.

At present, humanitarian intervention is opportunistic and expedient in nature.

Humanitarian intervention should be mandatory in cases of large-scale government-sanctioned killings. The Security Council should be given the authority and responsibility to muster Coalitions of the Willing, perhaps selected by ballot, to supply the necessary resources.

If it fails in its role, citizens from countries ruled by despots should be conferred automatic citizenship rights to Security Council member nations – nothing like self interest to stimulate action.

If this reform is not adopted, legal and social commentators are likely to be addressing the same issue into the 22nd century.