Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

Does International Law Impose a Duty upon the United Nations to Prevent Genocide?

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

Does International Law Impose a Duty upon the United Nations to Prevent Genocide?

Article excerpt

The speaker begins from the premise that international law must prevent human rights abuses, and not just punish them after the fact. With this in mind, he considers the jurisdiction of the United Nations to address cases of human rights violations within the borders of a sovereign state, including both what the United Nations is mandated to do in its charter in response to genocide, and whether it is legally bound to act on this mandate. Contemporary UN practice shows that the United Nations has seized a mandate to intervene to uphold human rights when they are violated within a sovereign state. Further, provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide oblige the United Nations to act to prevent genocide. Beyond this, however, there is an erga omnes obligation owed by the United Nations to the international community to prevent gross violations of human rights. The existence of this obligation, and the reciprocal rights it creates, has been acknowledged by the International Court of Justice as existing between states and the international community. It extends to the United Nations as a collection of states, all subject to this obligation to prevent crimes against humanity. The result of this is that the United Nations is legally and morally obliged to address genocide.

L'auteur, se basant sur la premisse selon laquelle le droit international doit prevenir les violations des droits de l'homme, plutot que de simplement les punir apres qu'elles se sont produites, passe en revue la competence des Nations Unies en ce qui concerne les violations de ces droits l'interieur des frontieres d'un Etat souverain. Cela inclut, a la fois, la portee du mandat des Nations Unies dans les cas de genocide, et leur obligation eventuelle d'agir pour mettre ce mandat en application. La pratique contemporaine de l'ONU revele l'emergence d'un mandat d'intervention pour remedier aux violations des droits de l'homme dans un Etat souverain ; de plus, la Convention sur le genocide oblige l'Organisation a agir dans de tels cas. De maniere plus fondamentale, les Nations Unies sont debitrices d'une obligation erga omanes envers la communaute internationale, qui consiste a prevenir les violations massives des droits de l'homme. L'existence de cette obligation entre les Etats et la communaute internationale, et des droits reciproques qui en sont issus, a ete reconnue par la Cour internationale de justice. L'ONU constituant an groupement d'Etats tous sujets a cette obligation de prevenir les crimes contre l'humanite, il en resulte que l'Organisation elle-meme a l'obligation legale et morale de faire face aux cas de genocide.

I. What Can the United Nations Do?

II. Must the United Nations Act?

   Look you, if men clearly sin against the laws of nature and of
   mankind, I believe that anyone whatsoever may check such men by
   force of arms. (1)

   The fact must also be recognized that kings, and those who possess
   rights equal to those kings, have the right of demanding
   punishments not only on account of injuries committed against
   themselves or their subjects, but also on account of injuries
   which do not directly affect them but excessively violate the law
   of nature or of nations in regard to any persons whatsoever ...
   Truly it is more honorable to avenge the wrongs of others than ones
   own ... (2)

Gentili and Grofius were among the most influential figures in the founding of international law. For both, being rooted in the natural law tradition where all people owe obligations to God and to their fellow humans, there could be no question that gross abuses of human rights perpetrated by a sovereign power could be stopped by other sovereigns through a just war.

A similar idea finds modern expression in article 1 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, where the contracting parties "confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish" (3) Similarly, in 1949 the United Nations War Crimes Commission stated categorically that "the right to punish war crimes . …

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