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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Is the Duty to Prevent Genocide an Obligation of Result or an Obligation of Conduct according to the ICJ?

Published on May 16, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the final post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Read the other posts in this symposium here and here.

This post questions the findings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 2007 Bosnia v. Serbia case, according to which the duty to prevent a genocide is an obligation of conduct that can be assessed only after the occurrence of a genocide. The post first briefly explores the distinction between obligations of conduct and obligations of result on the basis of the International Law Commission (ILC)’s works and judicial practice. The post moves on to emphasise some inconsistencies in the ICJ’s reasoning in relation to the occurrence of a genocide as a prerequisite for the violation of the duty to prevent genocide. Finally, the post advances some possible explanations of the role of the event ‘genocide’ in relation to the duty to prevent genocide.

The 2007 ICJ’s Decision

In the 2007 Bosnia v. Serbia case, the Court for the first time declared that an autonomous obligation of diligent conduct to prevent genocide exists under Article I of the 1948 Genocide Convention (see my reflections here). According to the Court:

It is clear that the obligation in question is one of conduct and not one of result, in the sense that a State cannot be under an obligation to succeed, whatever the circumstances, in preventing the commission of genocide: the obligation of States parties is rather to employ all means reasonably available to them, so as to prevent genocide so far as possible. A State does not incur responsibility simply because the desired result is not achieved; responsibility is however incurred if the State manifestly failed to take all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power, and which might have contributed to preventing the genocide. In this area the notion of “due diligence”, which calls for an assessment in concreto, is of critical importance. (para 430, emphasis added)

The Court went on to affirm that a breach of the duty to prevent genocide can be assessed only after a genocide has occurred. The Court took the view that:

a State can be held responsible for breaching the obligation to prevent genocide only if genocide was actually committed. It is at the time when commission of the prohibited act (genocide or any of the other acts listed in Article III of the Convention) begins that the breach of an obligation of prevention occurs. […] If neither genocide nor any of the other acts listed in Article III of the Convention are ultimately carried out, then a State that omitted to act when it could have done so cannot be held responsible a posteriori, since the event did not happen. (para 431, emphasis added)

However, the view that a genocide must occur before a State’s compliance with the duty to prevent genocide can be assessed ignores the fact that this duty is a due diligence obligation of conduct. This conclusion is supported by the analysis of the evolution of the notion of obligations of conduct. Read the rest of this entry…

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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Reflecting on the Genocide Convention at 70: How genocide became a crime subject to universal jurisdiction

Published on May 16, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the second post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Read the first post here.

The 9th of December 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. Article 6 of the Convention expressly grants adjudicatory jurisdiction to the territorial State (the State where the crime occurred) and to an international penal tribunal with the acceptance of the Contracting Parties. However, the textual content of the Article has not prevented the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the crime, including universal criminal jurisdiction. Reflecting on the Genocide Convention at 70, this post briefly analyses the development of universal jurisdiction over the crime of genocide. It explains how Article 6 has led to the application of the universality principle to the crime, and considers what can be learned from this phenomenon in the context of the legacy of the Genocide Convention.

The origins of the application of universal jurisdiction to genocide began decades before the drafting of the Genocide Convention in 1947. Read the rest of this entry…

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Symposium on the Genocide Convention: Codification of the Crime of Genocide – a Blessing or a Curse?

Published on May 15, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This is the first post in our blog symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention. 

Codification of the crime of genocide

A lot has been written about the origins of the crime of genocide that need not be repeated here. It is well known that Lemkin originally saw genocide as a broad concept, i.e. as different acts aimed at destroying the culture and livelihood of groups (Axis Rule in Occupied Power, pp. 79-82). Along the same lines, the 1946 UN General Assembly Resolution 96 described genocide as the denial of the right of existence of entire human groups – including political ones. However, the scope of the definition adopted in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was significantly narrower. Cultural destruction and forcible population transfer were not included in the final text, protected groups were restricted, and jurisdictional reach limited. Yet, the Convention must be understood in the context of time. Indeed, having in mind the historical background, it is quite remarkable that the Convention was adopted at all – and broad support was generated by making concessions and imposing more stringent requirements.

Since the Genocide Convention defined and codified the crime of genocide as an independent crime, the definition of genocide has remained firmly settled in international law. Perhaps prematurely, the ICJ had already proclaimed its customary status in 1951, which was subsequently fortified by the verbatim reproduction of Article II of the Genocide Convention in the statutes of international ad hoc tribunals (here and here) as well as the Rome Statute of the ICC. This surely contributed to legal certainty and, from this perspective, codification can be viewed as a blessing for the relatively consistent application of the definition of genocide at the international level. Yet, simultaneously, it was a curse, preventing the crime from undergoing a development similar to that of crimes against humanity and even war crimes. This downside of the early codification could have been at least partially addressed through teleological and evolutive interpretation of the offence. The international tribunals, however, failed to realize the potential of the definition and thus contributed to frustrations surrounding prosecutions of genocide as well as to claims that genocide today is a redundant crime. Read the rest of this entry…

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Introducing Upcoming Blog Symposium on the Genocide Convention

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Editor’s note: Starting this afternoon, the blog will host a symposium arising out of the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre conference to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention.

On 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in response to the Holocaust. It was designed to prevent and punish ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group’. At present, 150 states have ratified this treaty in the hope that current and future generations would not have to experience such heinous atrocities as committed during the Second World War.

Over the past seventy years, the legal concept of genocide has had time to evolve and mature. States and the international community have been given the impetus to prevent, prosecute and punish genocide to deliver on their historic promise that it would happen ‘never again’. The recent 70th anniversary of the Genocide Convention inspires reflection on its development and critical assessment of its legacy.

The Nottingham International Law and Security Centre, co-directed by Professors Mary Footer and Nigel White, organised and sponsored an interdisciplinary conference to mark the ‘70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention’ in November 2018. In three panels, the participants focused on the conceptualisation of genocide, jurisdictional matters and universality, and responsibility. Three of the best papers, one for each panel, were then selected for this small blog symposium on EJIL: Talk!. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICJ’s Preliminary Objections Judgment in Somalia v. Kenya: Causing Ripples in Law of the Sea Dispute Settlement?

Published on February 22, 2017        Author: 
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On 2 February 2017, the International Court of Justice handed down its Judgment on preliminary objections in the case concerning Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean (Somalia v. Kenya). Somalia had brought the case to request that the Court determine its single maritime boundary with neighbouring Kenya. The ICJ held that it may proceed to the merits phase, thereby rejecting the respondent’s submissions. Among other arguments, Kenya raised an objection rooted in Part XV (“Settlement of disputes”) of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC). It contended that the Convention’s dispute settlement system is an agreement on the method of settlement for its maritime boundary dispute with Somalia and therefore falls within the scope of Kenya’s reservation to its optional clause declaration made pursuant to Art. 36(2) of the ICJ Statute, which excludes “[d]isputes in regard to which the parties to the dispute have agreed or shall agree to have recourse to some other method or methods of settlement”.

The fact that Kenya relied on this argument is noteworthy in and of itself, as it was the first time that the Court faced a LOSC-based jurisdictional challenge. Moreover, we believe that the way in which the Court disposed of this argument has far-reaching implications since it casts a long shadow over dispute resolution in the law of the sea. But before delving into the ICJ’s reasoning and its ramifications, we will highlight some essentials of the LOSC dispute settlement system.   Read the rest of this entry…

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