What Good is the United Nations, International Law and its Courts?

There has been widespread criticism against ‘international law’ due to its clear inconsistency. States may vary greatly in their opinions and interpretations of issues regarding international law but this should not cloud the judgement of those elected to adjudicate over such matters. However, the UN has found it almost impossible to find enough consistency among states to draw an international rule of law in practice. In addition, the process of establishing any rules of international law is lengthy and impeded by today’s conveniently fast-changing world.

For instance – On 11 December 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was opened for signature. On July 1st 1949 the first state to sign and adopt the convention was Ethiopia. The treaty came into force in 1951 and closed for signature on 12 January 1951. Since then, states that did not sign the treaty can now only agree to it.

As of November 2015, 147 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, most recently Tajikistan on 3 November 2015.

Since then recorded and recognised acts of genocide have littered the following decades. From the ‘stolen generation’ of Aboriginal children in Australia, Guatemala 1981–1983, the India Sikh Genocide of 1984, Burundi 1972 and 1993, East Timor, Democratic Republic of Congo and many others too long to list (see a more comprehensive list HERE).

Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Srebrenica massacre is a good example.

In July 1995 Serbian forces killed more than 8,000 Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War. The killing was perpetrated by units of the Army of Republika Srpska. The Secretary-General of the United Nations described the mass murder as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.

In another case On 23 December 2005, a Dutch court ruled in a case brought against Frans van Anraat for supplying certain banned chemicals to Iraq. The court came to the conclusion that subsequent attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq. Because van Anraat supplied the chemicals before 16 March 1988, the date of the Halabja poison gas attack he was guilty of a war crime but not guilty of complicity in genocide.

These two cases clearly demonstrate that the United Nations and the judicial efforts of the International Court of Justice can agree and convict in cases of genocide – but only when it suits them.

Sanctions against Iraq in 1990 prior to the US/UK led war in 2003 had devastating effects on its population and was imposed intentionally. The sanctions were a near-total financial and trade embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council via United Nations Security Council Resolution 661. They began August 6, 1990, four days after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and it stayed in force until ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ commenced.

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