When the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany became apparent after the Second World War, the consensus within the world community was that the United Nations Charter did not go far enough in defining the rights to which it referred, and that those rights should be defined and enshrined in a new body of international law. The United Nations was determined to ensure that the terrible crimes of the Second World War would never be repeated. It was in fulfilment of this commitment that, one day before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 9 December 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide. The adoption of the Convention was full of symbolism and reaffirmed the gravity of the crime it addressed. But it went beyond that. It demonstrated the commitment of the international community to ensure both the prevention of genocide and the punishment of its perpetrators when the crime could not be prevented. The Convention defined genocide as any particular offense committed with "intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
It was not until the early 1990s, more than four decades after its adoption, that the Genocide Convention was applied for the first time, during the judicial processes that followed the Rwanda and Balkan conflicts. Its application in those contexts was significant primarily because it reaffirmed the inherent duty of States to hold individuals responsible for the crime of genocide, as well as other crimes committed during armed conflict. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were created by the United Nations Security Council, which used its power under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to establish these judicial bodies.
More than twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, no memory evokes as much horror and revulsion as that of the systematic and widespread killing of around 1 million men, women and children, who were targeted because of their ethnicity and political affiliations during those fateful hundred days in the spring of 1994. The Rwanda genocide was tragic evidence of how easily the flames of violence could be fanned, and of the critical importance of timely and decisive action by the international community to save human lives.
In the aftermath of the international community's failure to intervene to...