The Jacob Blaustein Institute’s Genocide Prevention Project is working to clarify the extent of state obligations in terms of genocide prevention. At the request of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, JBI has under taken an extensive legal review, including consultations with a team of legal specialists and human rights experts, of the many indicators of genocide in order to identify the corresponding legal norms that can be invoked to remind governments of their obligations.
The ‘risk factors’ consist of a compilation of human rights abuses which have been recorded in the lead up to past genocides and their corresponding legal norms. The precursors can include a history of mass atrocities in a particular country; targeted violence against members of a particular group; the state-condoned use of dehumanizing, discriminatory hate speech against members of a particular group; employment and education practices that discriminate against specific groups; denial of citizenship to members of targeted groups; among other such practices. This list is not exhaustive, and pre-genocidal situations will have significant contextual differences that will require case-by-case analysis. The international community acknowledged the importance of establishing early warning mechanisms to effectively prevent the onset of genocide, most recently in the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005.
States must be reminded that they have obligations to prevent genocide based on internationally accepted norms with which they are expected to comply. They must be provided with the information necessary to make them aware of the precursors to genocide and of the preventive steps they must take to halt potential genocidal acts. The importance and relevance of a normative framework for the prevention of genocide will better equip the Special Advisor to respond to situations that may appear pre-genocidal.
The ‘risk factors’ listed in the Compilation are derived from international legal norms found in the major international and regional human rights treaties and jurisprudence. The risk factors do not refer to random acts but to severe and systematic abuses of human rights. Many of the rights associated with the risk factors are non-derogable as set forth in Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Though all of the risk factors in the compilation constitute violations of human rights and humanitarian law, each one in and of itself is a “necessary but not sufficient causal factor” of genocide. However, when one and/or more risk factors appears in combination with others and in certain circumstances including deteriorating political, economic and legal conditions in a society, they may well contribute to the onset of genocide. The presence of one or more risk factors therefore does not necessarily mean that genocide will take place, but it should serve as an early warning to a state that it should take measures to mitigate the risk.
The Compilation of Norms is in its near-final stages of review. It will serve to clearly set out the legal basis for genocide prevention within already existing norms of international law, and facilitate with identifying specific situations of possible concern.