Understanding the crime of genocide

One of the most distinctive hallmarks of the crime of genocide compared to other international crimes is the "special intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". As is well known, genocide covers acts such as murder or serious bodily or mental harm, among others, committed with the special intent to destroy the whole or part of the group.

One of the most distinctive hallmarks of the crime of genocide compared to other international crimes is the “special intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

As is well known, genocide covers acts such as murder or serious bodily or mental harm, among others, committed with the special intent to destroy the whole or part of the group.

Comparing genocide and crimes against humanity, there’re number of contrasts and similarities: for the genocide, there’s a ‘special intent to kill a group of people in whole or in part’ while crimes against humanity, there’s commission of certain inhumane acts, such as murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, persecution and so forth in a widespread or systematic way, where an attack is directed against a civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organisational policy (to commit such an attack).

The genocidal acts are typically committed against a specific group of people and do not have to be part of a widespread or systematic campaign against civilians, as with the case of crimes against humanity. However, according to the ICC Statute, it requires that “the conduct took place in the context of a manifest pattern of similar conduct directed against that group or was conduct that could itself effect such destruction.” A common similarity of both crimes [genocide and crimes against humanity] is broadly prescribed as “an act universally recognised as criminal, which is considered a grave matter of international concern and for some valid reason cannot be left within the exclusive jurisdiction of the state that would have control over it under ordinary circumstances”.

In other words, both are the most unspeakable crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. However, today, genocide constitutes the worst violation of human rights. The crime of genocide is the most serious international crime that deeply shocks the human conscience.

As Rwanda commemorates the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the worst moment in the country’s history, international community ought to acknowledge its inaction to save the lives of innocent and helpless Rwandans 23 years ago.

It is noteworthy that in all periods of genocide history, the world suffered great losses of humanity. As a consequence, the global community must reflect on the heinousness and magnitude of genocide and re-commit to never let it happen again.

In my view, it requires effective prosecution which must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation. This responsibility is well encapsulated in the Genocide Convention of 1948, which requires nations to prevent and punish genocide. As a matter of international obligation, all states have a moral and legal obligation to prevent and punish genocide whatsoever.

Surprisingly, some of the perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi are still given a safe haven around the world, without hope of whether they’ll ever face justice. Until now, Rwanda is urging all those countries harbouring the perpetrators to cooperate but, seemingly, some countries are unwilling to do so. There should never be impunity for genocide.

The principle of universal jurisdiction allows states to investigate and prosecute a national of any state found within their borders who is alleged to have committed certain international crimes, including genocide. Therefore, no excuse for any country not to take action at the domestic level. Primarily, domestic prosecutions are not the best vehicle for the enforcement of international crimes, but they are often considered a preferable option – in practical and legitimacy terms to international prosecutions.

Moreover, every country has indeed a moral obligation to fight the reign of impunity by prosecuting international crimes at national level. As regards Rwanda’s request for those countries that provide sanctuary to perpetrators there is need to cooperate and transfer them to Rwanda. With respect to genocide and other international crimes, states ordinarily have obligation to prosecute or extradite the perpetrators. This obligation is unequivocally expressed in numerous regional and international treaties. Both the Genocide and Geneva Conventions explicitly require the State Parties to enact necessary legislation. Some States adopt implementing domestic legislation, while others rely upon direct application of international law in the domestic system.

Furthermore, under customary international law, it is equally acceptable to prosecute or extradite the perpetrators of international crimes. If correct, the duty would bind States regardless of whether they are parties to the relevant treaty.

To ensure that such crimes that deeply shock the human conscience don’t go unpunished, states are obligated to investigate and prosecute the offence in question, or to extradite suspects to another State party willing to do so. In this regard, Rwanda has unequivocally expressed the zeal, determination and readiness to dispense justice to Genocide perpetrators.

As a matter of observing international justice standards, it established the High Court Chamber for International Crimes, specifically to try cases related to international crimes. As of now, it has received and tried a couple of cases in connection to the Genocide against the Tutsi.

The writer is an international law expert.

 

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