The Obligation to Prevent Genocide: Towards a General Responsibility to Protect?

Andreas Zimmermann

in From Bilateralism to Community Interest

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199588817
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725272 | DOI:
The Obligation to Prevent Genocide: Towards a General Responsibility to Protect?

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In its judgment of 26 February 2007 in the Bosnian Genocide case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), when dealing with the obligation to prevent genocide as contained in Article I of the Genocide Convention, limited its holding to this very treaty provision. It therefore specifically stated that its decision ‘does not, in this case, purport to establish a general jurisprudence applicable to all cases where a treaty instrument, or other binding legal norm, includes an obligation for States to prevent certain acts’. This chapter first analyzes whether there exists, apart from such treaty-specific obligations, a general obligation to prevent the occurrence of serious breaches of international law under customary international law. The second focus is on the content of the obligation to prevent genocide, as contained in the Genocide Convention, and the somewhat parallel provision in the four Geneva Conventions, before moving on to the third point, namely the more general question whether the Security Council, or individual members thereof, are also under a Charter-based obligation to act when facing genocide, crimes against humanity, or the large-scale commission of war crimes. The sole focus, however, is on possible obligations of the Security Council, as well as those of third States, given that it seems to be beyond doubt that the respective territorial State is anyhow under an obligation to make sure that genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are not being committed on its territory. This is due to the fact that, on the one hand, each State is responsible for acts of its own organs committing such crimes.

Keywords: International Court of Justice; human rights; international law; Genocide Convention; genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes

Chapter.  8633 words. 

Subjects: Public International Law

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