No follow up to Nuremburg


 Court of Human Rights




Genocide is the crime defined by resolutions of the United Nations (1948) of trying to eliminate whole ethnic groups. It is often extended to mean mass murder of political opponents. It is usually the result of extreme nationalism.

During the 20th century there have been many examples of genocide but until recently there has been no international court in being which can try the cases of leaders who are alleged to be responsible.

The most obvious recent candidates for such a trial have been: Pol Pot and his associates in Cambodia; Idi Amin in Uganda; Saddam Hussein in Iraq (Kurdistan); Hafiz Assad in Syria; Israeli leaders for actions in Palestine and Lebanon; Abimiel Guzman, leader of Sendero Luminoso in Peru (He did not reach government but would like to if he gets out of jail). Other states which have suffered from this kind of crime are: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Sudan and El Salvador. Indonesia's actions in East Timor could be classified as genocide, as 200,000 people out of a population of 600,000 are believed to have died in the invasion and occupation.

Josef Stalin's activities would also be offenses in this category (but he died with his boots on). From 1995 Russia's activities in Chechnya may be classified as genocide.

In the past there have been the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915; anti-Jewish pogroms (organized massacres) in Russia and many others.

In general, outside Europe, there has been no international legal redress for people who suffer from the activities of their governments.

The policy of ethnic cleansing practiced by Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia show that Genocide can be committed by informal groups as well as by states (though the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic is believed to have encouraged the Serbian guerrillas and has appeared before the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, Netherlands). Radovan Karadzic, said to be the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia, is among those named as alleged war criminals. He previously practiced as a psychiatrist. Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Serb troops in Bosnia has also been named.



Possible Solutions

In 1945-6 many of the leaders of the German Nazi Party were put on trial at Nuremburg and charged with war crimes and genocide - planning to eliminate whole ethnic groups: Jews, Gypsies and Slavs. Some Japanese leaders were also tried. These provide a precedent for a possible world criminal jurisdiction.

There is at present no world criminal jurisdiction able to deal with such crimes. In 1947 it was proposed that the United Nations should include such a court but the proposal was dropped as the Cold War began and the resulting failure of the UN to develop as its founders had hoped.

The lack of a world court of Human Rights is also a legacy of the regime of National Sovereignty under which each state recognized no obligation beyond its borders and allowed no rights to authorities beyond its own institutions. Each nation behaved as though it occupied a planet to itself. Modern communications have shown up the disadvantages of this regime.

The European countries now recognize voluntarily the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, though still ignore it when judgments seem inconvenient to particular governments.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague is also voluntary. A complaint by the government of Nicaragua about mining of its harbors by the United States was upheld but the United States ignored the judgment. This indicates why such a jurisdiction has not been set up. Members of superpower governments might be accused, including some (retired) United States officials for actions during the war in Indochina; or leaders of the former Soviet Union (some now retired) responsible for actions in Afghanistan.

An analogy to this desirable development may be considered in the past evolution of law. At one time if a man beat his wife and children it was not held to be a breach of the peace as they were considered his property. Now it is an offense punishable by law. At one time the law took no account of the rights of slaves; now the category is illegal (though still found in some African, Latin American and Asian countries).

Genocide is regarded as an offense against International Law but, without a court able to enforce its judgments, the law cannot be upheld. The behavior of Saddam Hussein in the Kurdish and Shi'ite provinces of Iraq and in Kuwait is a matter of current interest, as is the behavior of the restored Kuwaiti government and the various groups in former Yugoslavia.

The United States proposed a war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia, and named persons active in the war as war criminals. Reporters and others are busy collecting the names of people responsible for extermination and rape camps, in the hope that they can be brought to trial. These are the first hopeful signs since 1945. But not very. In 1945, the allies controlled Germany and had access to the Nazi records. It is not so easy to arrest people in Yugoslavia or Iraq. There is no law enforcement force (do we need a World Bureau of Investigation?). 29/3/99

Since the above was written there have been special courts set up for Rwanda and Yugoslavia and the leaders of the genocidalists have been tried in both cases.

A treaty setting up a permanent International Criminal Court was signed and ratified by enough states to come into existence by July 2002.

However, a number of important states have not ratified it. As these include China, the United States and Israel it makes the court rather less important than it should be, especially as these are states whose military personnel are likely to produce possible cases for trial.

The ICC can only act if the accused's own state will not try him. A case can only be tried if the offence occurs in a signatory state or is committed by a citizen of a signatory state. The court will only be able to try crimes committed after July 2002 (so the US fear that cases arising from the war in Vietnam or the coup in Chile will be tried are groundless).

Last revised 11/10/09


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