The Case for Crimes Against Humanity

I attended a lecture at the Irish cards against humanity UK Edition Centre, Galway today by Professor Leila Sadat, Director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington. Mr. Harris was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War.

Professor Sadat referred to the Rome Statute (1998) which set up the International Criminal Court (of which the US is not a State party)

The Rome Statute is lacking for the following reasons

1) There is no enforceable duty to prevent atrocities (recognised in Bosnia -v- Serbia)
2) There is no State responsibility – individual responsibility only
3) There is no inter state enforcement
4) There is no mutual legal assistance
5) There is no liability for legal entities ie non-State bodies

Genocide is the most serious crime imaginable and it refers to “the deliberate and systematic destruction in whole or in part of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group” Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This definition does not cover political groups. Professor Sadat referred to the ad hoc tribunals which were set up in respect of Rwanda and Srebrenica. The issue of whether genocide happened in Bosnia -v- Serbia was not clear cut and technically although many many people were killed in Bosnia, it is only the killings at Srebrenica that qualify as genocide. If it is not genocide it is a crime against humanity, but at present there are no international legal instruments covering crimes against humanity.

Professor Sadat has spent the last 2 1/2 years working on this issue in conjunction with a number of distinguished colleagues including Professor William Schabas who is a worldwide expert in genocide. The expert working group has produced a draft to close the enforcement gap. Where serious crimes occur in a country, there are usually warning signs. Prevention would include measures such as taking action against hate speech, an obligation to provide human rights education and an alarm system about the likely commission of atrocities. The group has proposed four pillars to rectify current gaps in international law and they are

1) Normative foundations
2) Prevention
3) Punishment
4) Capacity Building

A Universal Treaty with clear definition is required. Professor Sadat and her team are almost ready to publish the draft and then it will go to international Governments for feedback, approval and comment. I believe it is essential that the world learns from the mistakes of the past and attempts to prevent such atrocities happening in the future.