Document Type

Article

Publication Title

New York University Journal of International Law and Politics

Publication Date

1979

Abstract

Until most recently, reports of mass killing by governments of their subjects were part of our daily news. These reports were received with particular anguish in view of the growing world demand for the protection of human rights.

This anguish was especially heightened because the acts from which it flowed were reminiscent of the atrocities committed by the Nazi Government against its own subjects. The recurrence of such atrocities was purportedly outlawed in the present world legal order as a result of the Nuremberg Judgment, which limited a sovereign's authority over its subjects with regard to international acts of aggression, the Convention on Genocide, which came into force in 1951, and various other United Nations-sponsored documents relating to human rights.

Despite these apparent post-World War II legal restraints on sovereign activity, mass killing by governments has continued unchecked by the world legal order. Only the unilateral intervention of the neighboring states of Tanzania and Vietnam, in response to border incursions by Uganda and Cambodia respectively, have brought an end to government-sanctioned mass killing in those countries. While these unilateral actions have relieved world tension and embarrassment over these particularly gross violations of human rights, they are clearly not an expression of international legal concern over a government's treatment of its own citizens. At best, these unilateral actions are a traditional state response to aggression, and they leave unanswered the questions raised by the killings themselves: whether the present world legal order includes within its laws prohibitions against government-sanctioned mass killing and, if so, whether it possesses the means for their enforcement

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