International law and armed conflict have a rather contentious history together. One the one hand, armed conflict implies and absence of law, and yet, on the other, international law plays an important role in codifying the use of force. The UN Charter’s restrictions on the use of force, drafted in the waning days of a second cataclysmic world war, were intended to radically transform the centuries-old ideology of raison d’état, which viewed war as a sovereign prerogative. More precisely, Article 2(4) of the Charter forbids not just war but force of any kind, or even the threat of it. On its face, the Charter system is a model of simplicity, consisting of a clear prohibition and two exceptions to that prohibition. The apparent simplicity is misleading, however. Article 2(4) is violated so often that experts disagree about whether it should even be considered good law. The Chapter VII enforcement exception is rarely used, and the meaning of self-defense under Article 51 is the subject of contentious disagreement. Moreover, even some UN bodies have supported creating another exception (humanitarian intervention) that coexists uneasily with the organization’s foundational principles. In addition, there is yet another exception (the use of force by national liberation movements) that may be as significant as the others, yet is little discussed by contemporary commentators.
Genocide is described as the most extreme form of crime against humanity; Winston Churchill even called it the “crime with no name.” The word “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who embarked on a mission to persuade the international community to accept genocide as an international crime under international law. In 1946, the first session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring genocide as a crime under international law. This resolution became the basis for the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, introduced in 1948. However, it would take another fifty years before the Genocide Convention would establish an International Criminal Court that would prosecute international war criminals. In the 1990s, special ad hoc tribunals were created for Yugoslavia and Rwanda to deal with international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In reaction to the failure of the international community to deal with genocide in Rwanda, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the norm of “the Responsibility to Protect.” The Genocide Convention was tested in the case brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia (originally Serbia and Montenegro) in 1993. It was the first time in history that a sovereign state was placed on trial for the commission of genocide. The implications and ramifications of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that the Serbian government did not commit genocide in Bosnia became a subject of considerable debate among legal scholars.