David Kopel (of The Volokh Conspiracy), Paul Gallant, and Joanne D. Eisen have posted a law review article, Is Resisting Genocide a Human Right?, as a working paper draft. It discusses the history and effectiveness of various methods used to stop genocide.
Kofi Annan observes “the developing international norm in favor of intervention to protect innocent civilians from wholesale slaughter.” Unfortunately, the norm of intervention to stop wholesale slaughter is extremely underdeveloped in practice. Neither the Security Council, nor any other multilateral body, nor any nation(s) acting unilaterally have stopped the genocide in Sudan. Nor are they stopping the genocide by government-caused starvation in Zimbabwe. Nor did they stop the genocides in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Guatemala, or Rwanda. Even when a genocidal government (such as Hitler’s Germany, Amin’s Uganda, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia) made the error of provoking a stronger nation and prompting an invasion, that invasion eventually stopped the genocide, but did not prevent the genocide from being initiated.
A policy that relies on the Security Council to prevent genocides has historically been proven to be ineffective. A policy that relies on unilateral invasions to prevent genocide may save lives, but such a policy has, historically, resulted in action that, at best, came far too late to save millions of genocide victims. Moreover, humanitarian, non-defensive unilateral intervention is, by the dominant interpretation of international law, illegal.
In other words, multilateral bodies have a terrible record on stopping genocides. Unilateral action to stop genocide is illegal. What’s left?
For one answer, plus a good background on the Darfur genocide, read the whole paper.
The authors also invite your comments by e-mail.