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The Duty to Prevent Atrocity Crimes: Operationalising State Obligations

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Duration: 0:39:08 | Added: 19 Feb 2020
From the instant that a State receives an early warning that mass atrocities are likely to occur, what, precisely, is it required to do in response?

There is wide agreement that a duty to prevent atrocity crimes exists as a matter of both treaty and customary international law, but little agreement as to the specific content of the obligation. This need has become particularly acute as States hesitate to sign up for new multilateral treaties containing preventive provisions, and courts hesitate to enforce existing preventive duties. The obscurity surrounding preventive obligations is further complicated by the complex legal framework governing atrocity crimes, and the fact that the duty to prevent genocide, crimes against and humanity and war crimes each holds a separate status under the law, derived from distinct sources and the product of unique legal histories. In light of the fact that the precise nature of a crime is often not apparent until the bloodshed has begun, how are States meant to operationalize their responsibilities from the moment that risk appears?

This talk will examine States' preventive obligations in relation to genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, by first reviewing the legal frameworks governing each atrocity crime, and then assessing the areas in which further clarity is needed. It will seek to articulate further procedural and substantive guidance as to the specific content of the duty to prevent from the moment that early warnings are provided, particularly in view of the International Court of Justice’s recent Provisional Measures decision in the case between The Gambia and Myanmar. Finally, it will conclude by proposing to derive a procedural obligation from the duty to prevent, imported from other areas of public international law, which would assist in filling some of the key operational voids in implementing State responsibility before atrocities have begun.

Shannon Raj Singh is a Visiting Fellow of Practice at Oxford with the Blavatnik School of Government's Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) Programme on International Peace and Security. She is also an Associate Legal Officer at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, where she advises the Appeals Chamber and the Office of the President on the first terrorism trial before an international criminal tribunal.

At ELAC, Shannon is researching the prevention of mass atrocities with Federica D'Alessandra, Executive Director of the Oxford Programme on International Peace and Security. Together, they are working to articulate the preventive duties of States in relation to genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and to provide substantive guidance as to implementing and operationalizing the due diligence standard. The research is intended to be part of a stream of work to guide policymakers working in the atrocity prevention and accountability space. Shannon is also an advisor to the Transatlantic Network on Atrocity Prevention, an action-oriented network for engagement across governments, multilateral institutions, academia, and practitioners.

Shannon is an American attorney licensed to practice in California, and a graduate of UCLA and the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law. She is also an Officer for the War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association, and its Special Rapporteur on the ILC Draft Articles on Crimes Against Humanity. She has spoken on expert panels around the world on international criminal law, atrocity prevention, and the intersection of technology and human rights.

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