Many thanks to Dapo for inviting me to blog here at EJIL: Talk! – hopefully the blog will turn out to be as successful in the blawgosphere as the EJIL is in print. In the next couple of weeks I intend to write on various topics, first about certain issues regarding the the Genocide Convention, which has had its sixtieth anniversary last week, on December 9th.
On any account, the Convention is an extraordinary treaty, a historic pronouncement by states that the practice of exterminating human groups merely on account of their nation, race, religion or ethnicity, is something that can never condoned or resorted to. At the same time, the Convention is in many ways a deeply disappointing instrument.
One, rather obvious item of disappointment would be its record of compliance. How many genocides, exactly, has the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide actually prevented or punished? In the face of, say, Darfur, it is hard to escape the impression that the Convention has hardly been a success. Some authors have even conducted empirical studies suggesting that the Convention has contributed little or nothing to the actual compliance with the norms that it enshrines (see here, at 1981-1982).
For what it’s worth, I believe that this initial reflex of disappointment should be resisted. Before we ask ourselves whether the Convention does what it was supposed to do, we need to look at what it actually says. And it says very, very little. The definition of the crime of genocide requires the specific intent to (physically or biologically) destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, this enumeration of protected groups being exhaustive. The narrowness of this definition is such that it excludes the vast majority of acts that most lawyers, and by far the majority of the general public, think of as genocide.