Humanity has repeatedly pleaded that “never again” should the world let anything like the Holocaust happen in which six million Jews were deliberately exterminated by the Nazi government of Germany during WWII (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Even though that was not the first time such violence had been perpetrated on a specific group of people, a crime of this severity did not even have a name until the human rights activist Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide.” Lemkin’s lobbying helped bring about an international law adopted by the U.N. in 1948: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This then led to the creation of many international courts and institutions such as the Nuremburg Trials, the International Criminal Tribunal, the U.N. Security Council and now the International Criminal Court.
These institutions have only been reactive, however, and have hardly made an effective attempt at preventing the unleashing of that most evil side of humans which is capable of committing genocide. Genocide continues because countries and international institutions are too afraid to take forceful action and overstep state sovereignty by getting involved. Politics becomes entangled and leaders err on the side of caution by not wishing to offend other foreign leaders; they also prefer to preserve political relationships by refusing to acknowledge that there is a genocidal situation that requires intervention. Because an accusation of genocide is so powerful, it is only hesitantly used to label a situation - and usually after it is too late to prevent the killing, as was the case in Rwanda, described here by the United Human Rights Council:
Back at U.N headquarters in New York, the killings were initially categorized as a breakdown in the cease-fire between the Tutsi and Hutu. Throughout the massacre, both the U.N. and the U.S. carefully refrained from labeling the killings as genocide, which would have necessitated some kind of emergency intervention.
The U.N. Security Council responded to the worsening crisis by voting unanimously to abandon Rwanda. The remainders of U.N. peacekeeping troops were pulled out, leaving behind an only tiny force of about 200 soldiers for the entire country.
In order to truly answer humanity’s cry of “never again” there should be a global institution with jurisdiction over international human rights, focused primarily on genocide. That institution should be equipped with military and diplomatic forces that would be able to take the quick action necessary to prevent genocide and bypass the politics and bureaucracies overly concerned with infringing on state sovereignty.
I will discuss the history and attempts at global governing organizations and the contrasting idea of state sovereignty, how this has contributed to the failure of genocide prevention, and what can be done to prevent genocide in the future. As a result of my research, I think the best solution for genocide prevention is to create a pro-active international organization that would use educational, diplomatic, economic, and military measures in that order. I will explain how I came to this conclusion in the rest of the paper, and start with why I am specifically addressing genocide instead of human rights in general.
An organization charged with this task will be most successful if it initially focuses upon genocide because that crime is clearly defined and one of the most atrocious violations of human rights. While there is no agreement about exactly what totally constitutes human rights, there is a clear definition of genocide, thanks to Lemkin and his close work with The Genocide Convention in 1948.
In the present Convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Also, genocide cannot be said to be a part of or appropriate in any different cultures or circumstances like some might argue genital mutilation or the denial of education for women, even as much as those practices are also seen by many as infringements of human rights. The organization must also not be primarily funded or staffed by any single nation or group of nations because then it will be viewed as a vehicle for those countries to act in a way that best serves their national interests while hiding behind the cover of a so called international organization.
There have been multiple attempts to create a global governing institution but none have been very successful, whether it is because they try to please every country all the time and avoid taking any action at all or because they are viewed as the tool of a few large powerful countries to pursue what is best for their own national interests. One of the first major attempts was the creation of the League of Nations after WWI and it was supposed to promote peace and punish any countries which instigated war. However, the League of Nations was not prepared enough to take a firm stance against aggressor countries that made military moves in the time after it was formed because it did not want to offend those countries politically. The League thus ended up becoming an ineffective organization (Simkin).
On October 24, 1945, what was left of the League of Nations was absorbed into the new organization, the United Nations. The United Nations aims to promote peace and security, protect human rights, and serve as a forum for solving international social, economic, and cultural problems.
The Purposes of the United Nations are:
To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.
While the U.N. has had some success in international affairs, and is known as the organization that can most quickly provide food and relief supplies to disaster areas, it shares the major weaknesses of the League of Nations - it is often too slow to act and very cautious in interfering with state sovereignty. It also seems to promote the will of some of the more powerful countries in the world, such as the United States of America, and can neglect the needs of the most vulnerable people in the world (“United Nations”). In 2003 much of the credibility of the U.N. was lost when the U.S. neglected to get the approval of the Security Council before the Iraqi Invasion (Jost). From my research I have concluded that the U.N. has been relatively successful, however, compared with other attempts at global governance because it can mobilize military forces, even though that is usually accomplished at a snail’s pace, and the UN forces have many countries represented.
In contrast, the International Criminal Court was established in 1998 and has jurisdiction over only 120 countries, not including major world powers such as China, the U.S., and Russia. The ICC is independent of the U.N. and is a last resort court where individuals who are accused of committing human rights violations, war crimes, and genocide are tried if they are not prosecuted in their own country. A limiting factor of the court is that it can only prosecute citizens of the countries who have ratified the Rome Statute, which the court is based on (“International Criminal Court”). Although President Clinton signed documents establishing the Court, President Bush removed that support has and been strongly been against the ICC because he felt that the court is a danger to state sovereignty and could infringe on those rights, which raises some questions about American actions, especially with regard to the Iraqi invasion, war in Afghanistan, and treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay (Jost).
So just what is this concept of state sovereignty that has foiled the grand goals of many of these international institutions? Sovereignty is a very controversial topic in international law and political science. It means that the governing body of a state has complete and total power to rule as it sees fit without outside intervention; it is also about the way in which two or more states interact (Brinkman). This concept has been around for a while, and one of the first international treaties that reinforced the absolute power of the state authorities is the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia after the Thirty Years War. The treaty changed some of the territories of various countries, broke up what was the Holy Roman Empire and was a turning point towards the individualizing of nations and away from globalization (“Treaty of Westphalia”). However, this concept is no longer relevant as globalization becomes more and more an inescapable reality. Sovereignty encourages rivalry and destroys community, producing nationalistic, fragmented states that generally just pursue their best interests.
The foremost concern of a country is to secure enough resources such as food, oil, natural minerals, labor, etc. because resources are limited. The states then trade to obtain the resources they want and this has led to globalization. However, while the economy has globalized, governance remains under state sovereignty (Brinkman). In my research I have noticed a pattern where the world will work together to protect the global economy but not to protect basic human rights and prevent horrors such as genocide. The United States will invade a country to protect oil interests but not to save the lives of millions of people who could be killed if a situation escalated into genocide. Other states have acted similarly and this is for two reasons: 1. They will only pursue best interests as a country and 2. They will not get involved where they don’t have interests because they will hurt political relationships by interfering with another sovereignty. However, in an Op-Ed by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, three strong points are made about how preventing genocide is in America’s best interest: it promotes stability, prevents the high price tag of refugee relief and humanitarian aid, and it bolsters our reputation (Albright and Cohen).
To prevent genocide there must be quick action, because once a genocide is started it is nearly impossible to stop and states and existing international organizations are reluctant to do this because they are slowed by bureaucracy and do not wish to infringe on state sovereignty. Samantha Power, a journalist and Harvard professor, in her book The Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, gives many examples of specific situations where the United States could have gotten involved and prevented genocide.
But, states are hesitant to give too much power to an international organization because the organization may not act in the best interest of the state because it may not have a solid grasp of the culture of the state and also damage state sovereignty. However, in the paper “International Delegation and State Sovereignty” Oona A. Hathaway argues that delegating some responsibilities to international organizations would in fact benefit and strengthen state sovereignty and be more cost effective. International cooperation also allows the world to achieve things that would not be possible otherwise, such as answering humanity’s cry of never letting genocide happen again.
The International Criminal Court is a great first step, but it is reactive and only punishes those who commit gross human rights violations, war crimes, and genocide. While some leaders might be deterred by the thought of trial and punishment from the ICC, there needs to be a more proactive institution.
A global institution designed to prevent genocide would have to be independent from the large international institutions that already exist because many of the largest ones have lost credibility and become too bureaucratic to take quick action. However, in order to be effective and be taken seriously by states it must work closely with the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank to be able to impose economic sanctions as a warning to a country where a pre-genocidal situation is brewing. George H. Staunton, the president of Genocide Watch, has indentified the eight stages of genocide which will make it easier for the genocide prevention institution to get involved in a pre-genocidal situation as soon as it detects that a situation has taken the first step towards genocide (Staunton). The eight stages are:
Classification Symbolization Dehumanization Organization
Polarization Preparation Extermination Denial
The organization must be global and not indentified with any single country so as to remain impartial and to truly work for the good of humanity and not national interests. The organization must work with groups like Genocide Watch, the international campaign to end genocide, to educate the world on genocide and create the political will and desire to ensure it never happens again and use their work to monitor conflicts around the world. Then when there is a situation that requires intervention, the institution will first use diplomatic means to solve the problem and if that doesn’t work, collaborate with the WTO, IMF, and World Bank to impose very harsh global economic sanctions to get the country to take extreme measures to fix the issue, and as a last resort send in military forces to physically prevent the genocide from occurring. Hopefully the education and diplomatic efforts will be met with success and then the question of overstepping state sovereignty will not even arise.
It is time now to form this institution. We have learned from the successes and failures of other global governing institutions to understand how to best form an organization to prevent genocide. The concept of state sovereignty is on the decline in our increasingly globalized world but those who still value it immensely, such as the United States, would in fact benefit from this organization. The lack of political will and motivation to intervene to stop genocide would no longer be a barrier with the delegation of genocide prevention to an international institution.
It is time to say “never again” and mean it.
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Brinkman, Richard L. and Brinkman, June E. "Globalization and the nation-state: dead or alive" Journal of Economic Issues. June 2008. 13 Feb. 2009
Hathaway, Oona A.,International Delegation and State Sovereignty. Law and Contemporary Problems, January 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1009600
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