An Unfulfilled Promise: The Genocide Convention and the Obligation of Prevention

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Journal of Strategic Security






This article addresses the under-theorized dual-mandate of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention was drafted in the wake of the Holocaust and other Nazi genocidal atrocities committed during World War II. The primary mission of the Genocide Convention was to establish a uniform definition of this scourge, and insert its prevention and punishment into the list of obligations states hold within the current international legal regime. Based on the past 70 years, it is clear that the international community has overwhelmingly failed to uphold the Genocide Convention’s prevention mandate. The Convention and its signatories have been more successful in punishing perpetrators posthaste (e.g., the 1940s Nuremburg and Tokyo trials; the 1990s tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; and the International Criminal Court). Eyeing the failure of the international community in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the Canadian government created the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty that created the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P). The article argues that R2P has filled part of the gaps in the Genocide Convention and allowed states to take affirmative actions to prevent genocide in the modern era (e.g., Libya 2011).


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