This paper will examine the issues surrounding the role and responsibility of a
for genocide – moving beyond the language of the Genocide Convention (individualresponsibility) into an area recently illuminated by an International Court of Justiceopinion on
for genocide by parties to the Balkan conflicts of the1990s.Drawing on the experience of the trials of Axis defendants at Nuremberg and becausethere had not previously existed a treaty forbidding the planned extermination of an entirerace or group of people, the United Nations in 1948 agreed upon the Convention on thePrevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Signers to the convention, which by 2006 numbered more than 138, pledged their nations to honor the treaty and the phrase “never again,” which referred to the Nazi Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews, became a regular part of international diplomatic language.The United States ratified the treaty in 1988 (after signing it in 1948) which meant it was bound to uphold the language of the treaty, specifically Article 1 which states: “TheContracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in timeof war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”Article 4 goes further and states “The Contracting Parties undertake to enact, inaccordance with their respective Constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect tothe provisions of the present Convention, and, in particular, to provide effective penaltiesfor persons guilty of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III.”
Because the United States had not ratified the treaty prior to 1988 it was not legally bound by the treaty’s language on the prevention and punishment of genocide. After ratification the US became bound by the language of the treaty yet failed to act in casesof genocide in the Balkan Wars during the 1990’s as well as the Rwandan Genocide in1994.In the case of the Balkans when former Secretary of State Warren Christopher was askedunder oath if genocide had occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina he answered: “There’s nodoubt in my mind that rape and ethnic cleansing and other almost indescribable acts havetaken place and it certainly rises to the level that is
tantamount to genocide
. The technicaldefinition is not perhaps what’s important here, but what is important is that it is atrociousconduct, it is an atrocity and it must be stopped” (Powers 298).In the case of Rwanda the United States was wary, early on in the crisis, of using the term“genocide” to describe what was happening in Rwanda. The evidence of this is clear as adiscussion paper on Rwanda circulated between the US Department of Defense and theState Department contained this language:1.Genocide Investigation: “Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention.
BeCareful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday – Genocide finding could commit [US Government] to actually ‘do something”
Furthermore in a news conference the spokeswoman for the US State Department, whenasked for comment on whether Rwanda was genocide, said this: “Well, as I think youknow the term “Genocide” has a very precise legal meaning. Before we begin to use that