The International Law Commission's Proposal for a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Humanity
Thursday, February 8, 2018
4:30 PM - 5:30 PM
Three crimes typically have featured in the jurisdiction of international criminal tribunals: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The crime of genocide and war crimes are the subject of global conventions that require States within their national law to prevent and punish such crimes, and to cooperate among themselves toward those ends. By contrast, there is no global convention dedicated to preventing and punishing crimes against humanity and promoting inter-State cooperation in that regard, even though crimes against humanity are no less prevalent than genocide or war crimes. Yet treaties focused on prevention, punishment, and inter-State cooperation exist for many offences far less egregious than crimes against humanity, such as corruption and organized crime.
Consequently, a global convention on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity might serve as an important additional piece in the current framework of international law, and in particular, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international human rights law. The International Law Commission – a body of 34 experts elected by the United Nations General Assembly to assist in codifying and progressively developing international law – completed a first draft of such a treaty in 2017 and is now awaiting comments from governments prior to completion of the final draft in 2019. This lecture will explore the justification for such a treaty, the contents of the current draft, the likelihood that it will be adopted and ratified by States, and the possible long-term benefits were such a treaty to enter into force.
Sean D. Murphy is the Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he teaches international law and U.S. foreign relations law. He is also a Member of the U.N. International Law Commission, serving as its Special Rapporteur for Crimes against Humanity.
Professor Murphy is President-elect of the American Society of International Law and the Chair of its Program Committee. He has previously been elected to serve on the Society’s Executive Council and as a Counselor, as well as on the Board of Editors of the American Journal of International Law.
From 1987 to 1995, Professor Murphy served in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State, specializing in oceans and environment law, international dispute resolution, and the law of war. From 1995 to 1998, he served as the Legal Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, representing the U.S. Government before the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and as the U.S. Agent to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal. Professor Murphy has served as an arbitrator, counsel, or expert in cases before international courts and tribunals, including on behalf of Ethiopia, Kosovo, Indonesia, Macedonia, Suriname, Uganda, and the United States. He is an Associate Member of Matrix Chambers, London.
Professor Murphy has published articles in a variety of national and international law journals, and his recent books include: International Law Relating to Islands (Brill Nijhoff/Hague Academy of International Law, 2017) Foreign Relations Law (5th ed. 2017) (with Swaine & Wuerth) International Law: Cases and Materials (6th ed. 2014) (with Damrosch) Litigating War: Mass Civil Injury and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (2013) (with Kidane and Snider) Public International Law in a Nutshell (5th ed. 2013) (with Buergenthal) and Principles of International Law (2d ed. 2012).
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