Genocide Convention obligations to cooperate with a regional human rights tribunal

Emma Brandon has written about this year's PluriCourts annual conference where she presented sections of her PhD dissertation that analyzes states' obligations in the Genocide Convention. 

This year’s PluriCourts Annual Conference was held virtually over Zoom, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this unique way of holding an Annual Conference unfortunately cut down on the useful informal discussions that occur between sessions of in-person conferences, it had the added benefit of allowing people to attend from outside of Oslo. I presented a section of my PhD dissertation that analyzes whether and to what extent membership in the Genocide Convention obligates states to cooperate with a regional human rights tribunal, even if the state is not a party to the tribunal.

Cooperation of states

The three regional human rights tribunals (the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights) rely solely on the cooperation of states to ensure that they are able to effectively investigate, adjudicate, and remedy the worst human rights abuses, including violations that amount to genocide. In some circumstances, they even require the cooperation of states that are not parties to the tribunals. This is necessary when part of the violation occurred under the jurisdiction of a non-state party or evidence is otherwise only available from that non-state party. Establishing that even non-state parties have international legal obligations to cooperate with these tribunals, because of other treaties to which they have freely agreed, helps to ensure consistency in the cooperation of these states. It also adds to the perceived legitimacy of these tribunals and of these cooperation obligations.

States' obligations 

With regard to the Genocide Convention, states have a limited obligation to cooperate with regional human rights tribunals that is created by the obligation in article 1 of the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide. The obligation to prevent genocide in combination with the general international law obligation to provide reparations for violations of international legal obligations requires states to provide a remedy/remedies to individuals harmed by the state’s failure to prevent genocide.  In turn, the remedy obligation creates an obligation to cooperate with a regional human rights tribunal if that tribunal’s adjudication is necessary to ensure the effective provision of remedy for the article 1 violation.

The obligation to cooperate is of limited application to the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights as those tribunals do not have direct jurisdiction over acts of genocide or violations of the Genocide Convention. The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights does have direct jurisdiction over violations of the Genocide Convention as part of its jurisdiction over all human rights treaties to which the relevant state is a party. However, as discussed in the audience comments after the presentation, the other regional human rights tribunals may incidentally adjudicate remedies for genocide when they use the Genocide Convention as an interpretive tool.

Audience comments

I received positive, constructive, and thoughtful comments from the audience and appreciated the opportunity to engage with the many human rights law experts connected to PluriCourts. In particular, the discussion on the role of the regional human rights tribunals in the adjudication of genocide yielded a helpful suggestion to include the Plan de Sánchez Massacre v. Guatemala case at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This case has turned out to be quite relevant and to have improved the accuracy of my analysis. Overall, it was a useful opportunity to present work to and receive feedback from both human rights law experts and non-human rights law experts.

Published July 1, 2020 3:12 PM - Last modified July 1, 2020 3:12 PM
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