, Volume 22, Issue 1-2, pp 1-33
Date: 09 Apr 2011

Preventing Genocide: Measuring Success by What Does Not Happen

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Abstract

Although the concept of genocide prevention is recognized in international jurisprudence and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, its content remains vague and peripheral to legal scholarship and policy-making. Effective prevention is particularly challenging to grasp because success must be measured by what does not happen. Reaction to mass-atrocities must be replaced by early warning and rapid engagement through modest and feasible measures. With escalating violence, there may be greater attention to a situation, but also less willingness to intervene as humanitarian intervention through force and similar means becomes increasingly costly. A better understanding of the norms, institutions, and tools within reasonable reach of decision-makers is essential to translating genocide prevention from an elusive ideal into reality. This article evaluates and elucidates the law and practice of early warning and genocide prevention. First, the far-reaching potential of a preventive approach is illustrated based on the example of Rwanda where measures as modest as jamming radio broadcasts inciting hatred could have substantially constrained genocidal violence. Second, scholarship on the indicia and prediction of mass atrocities will be explored with a view to understanding the timeliness of action. Third, the legal and institutional dimensions of an obligation to prevent genocide and other mass-crimes will be addressed with a focus on recent developments within the UN system. And fourth, success stories from Macedonia, Côte d’Ivoire and Burundi will be examined in order to demonstrate the practical impact of early warning and prevention

Former Legal Advisor, Office of the Prosecutor, ICTY-ICTR, The Hague; author of Report on the Work of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Professor of International Law, McGill University, Montreal. The kind assistance of Sarah Ross, Samuel Walker, and Stacey Douglas in the preparation of this article is gratefully acknowledged.