bosnia report
No. 10 April - May 1995
The Arms Embargo as a Tool of Genocide
by Paul R. Williams

The United Nations Convention of Genocide calls upon all nations to prevent and punish crimes of genocide. By enforcing the illegal arms embargo on the sovereign and independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the member states of the United Nations are not only failing to prevent and punish crimes of genocide, but are actually facilitating the commission of such crimes.

In order to prevent genocide from ever occurring again after World War II, the member states of the United Nations adopted the Convention on Genocide. This convention defines what actions constitute a crime of genocide.

Genocide is defined in the Convention as the deliberate attempt to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part, though : 1. killing or causing serious bodily harm to members of that group; 2. deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to cause destruction of that group; or 3. the imposition of measures intended to prevent births within that group.

In order to ensure that all necessary action was taken to prevent genocide from ever occurring again, the Genocide Convention made it a crime not only to commit genocide, but also to attempt to commit genocide, incite genocide, or to be complicit in the commission of genocide.

Much international attention has naturally been focused on the fact that Serbian nationalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina are widely responsible for crimes of genocide. This fact has been confirmed recently by the pending indictment of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic for war crimes, including the crime of genocide. Ample evidence undoubntedly exists to prove that genocide, as defined under international law, is occurring in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There has, however, been little attention focussing upon the responsibility of states and international policy-makers outside Bosnia-Herzsegivina for their part in the commission of crimes of genocide. Most states and international policy-makers naively assume that since they are pursuing a policy of 'negotiate and pray' and have the best interests of 'peace' (appeasement) at heart, they cannot possible be associated with the genocide occurring in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

What these states and international policy makers fail to realise is that an integral compondent of their 'negotiate and pray' strategy - the enforcement of the arms embargo - is a tool of genociÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ de.

Enforcement of the arms embargo constitutes a crime of genocide, since it permits the Serbian nationalists to retain a superior military edge over the Bosnian government forces, and thus facilitates their ability to carry out genocide. Enforcement of the arms embargo also denies the Bosnian government the ability to defend its citizens from genocide. Possibly even more important, since the Serbian nationalsts are aware that enforcement of the embargo facilitaates their crimes of genocide and that states enforcing the embargo are also aware of this fact, they take the continued enforcement of the embargo as tacit acceptance and encouragement of their genocidal acts.

Most states and intrnational policy-makers supporting enforcement of the arm s embargo contend in their defence that they do not ' intend' to support genocide, and they are immune from any association with the fact that their policy promotes genocide, since the arms embargo is the result ofa UN resolution, which they must obey.

With regard to intent, the Convention on Genocide does not require that a state or international policy-makers actually intend to commit a crime of genocide - the mere fact that they are responsible for complicity in the commiss8on of genoide, be it through intent, arrogance or ignorance, is sufficient to attach liability for that crime.

Although states and international policy-makers frequently recite the mantra that they are required to enforce the arms embargo as it is mandated by a UN Security Council Resolution, this too provides little protection or cover from their responsibility for crimes of genocide. The obvious charade of this argument is exposed by the fact that, of over 75 UN resolutions on the former Yugoslavia, this is one of the few that they actually enforce.

But more impoirtantly, enforcement of the arms embargo is a violation of international law: states are thus not only permitted to not enforce the arms embargo, they are obligated by the rule of law to cease its enforcement (of course, provided that they view themselves as law-abiding states). As detailed in a previous contribution to Bosnia Report, enforcement of the arms embargo is a violation of international law, since it violates Bosnia's territorial integrity and inherent right of self-defence of that territory as codified by United Nations Charter articles 2(4) and 51, and since it convravenes the obligations of the member states of the United Nations and the rights of Bosnia-Herzsegovina under several Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

The last remaining bit of cover for international policy-makers carrying out this genocidally tainted policy of enforcing the arms embargo is that they are in the end merely state officials dutifully carrying out an official state policy. Yet not even this argument can absolve them of their actions as the Convention on Genocide unambigulously declares that persons committing crimes of genocide shall be held responsible and punished whether they are 'constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals'.

Member states and international policy-makers enforcing the arms embargo deny the Bosnia-Herzsegovina government the means to protect its nationals from genocide, violate their own obligations to prevent genocide, and are responsible for complicity in genocide - a punishable crime under the Genocide Convention. States and international policy-makers enforcing the arms embargo should bear in mind that although no tribunal has been established to prosecute violators of the arms embargo, one has been established to prosecute those responsible for crimes of genocide.

Paul R. Williams is former Attorney-Adviser, Office of the Legal Adviser for European Affairs, United States Department of State At present he is the Executive Director, Public International Law and Policy Group, and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Cambridge.


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