The Right to Life, Genocide, and the Problem of Bystander States

  • David H. Jones


There is a glaring inconsistency between the professed commitment by the international community to protect and promote the universal right to life (RTL), and its abysmal failure to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity, the most flagrant violations of that right. Despite the promise of the Nuremberg Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on Genocide, and a host of other international agreements and precedents, at least 15 million largely defenseless civilians have been murdered by governments and revolutionary armies since the Second World War. As Leo Kuper pointed out some years ago, a salient feature of this massive failure of international law is the inaction of bystander states, most notably the United States.1 In this chapter I defend Kuper’s view that ending, or at least reducing, the phenomenon of bystander states is the most urgent problem facing the human rights community, since for the foreseeable future, the only feasible means of preventing, or at least mitigating, imminent or ongoing genocides and other kinds of mass murder, is the timely and effective intervention by the international community.2


Security Council International Criminal Court Legal Norm Ethical Norm United Nation Convention 
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© David H. Jones 2005

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  • David H. Jones

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