Genocide: What Role for International Law?

17 April-28 May 2013 (E03513) | Closed
Instructor: Gerd Oberleitner

Genocide is not only a dark legacy of the past but a threat to the present and future of many societies. How best to respond to genocide, prevent its (re-)occurrence, provide redress for the victims and deal with the legacy of atrocities, and what is the role of international law in all this? This is the central question the course sets out to answer. Indeed, today’s responses to genocide seem manifold. After forty years of lying dormant, the Genocide Convention is resuming its role as a tool for combating impunity for acts of genocide. The ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have paved the way for holding perpetrators accountable, and truth and reconciliation commissions have been set up to deal with the aftermath of genocides. The International Court of Justice speaks out on genocide, and the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over this crime. But are these laws, institutions and measures adequate for preventing genocide, for intervening and for providing redress – and if not, why? This e-learning course provides an introduction into the phenomenon of genocide and explores the ways and means for responding to genocide which are available under the present international legal order. It examines the potential and limits of law as a tool for confronting the “crime of crimes” and its perpetrators, accomplices and bystanders.

While this certificate course is focused on international law, it provides space for a multi-disciplinary approach to genocide. Knowledge of particular fields of international law, e.g human rights, international humanitarian or criminal law is beneficial, but not a prerequisite.

Course structure

The course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, on-line working groups, webinars, interaction among students, the instructor and invited guests. The course will integrate active and participatory learning approaches within activities and assignments, with an emphasis on reflective and collaborative learning. Participants will do the required reading, prepare assignments, including case studies, and participate in group discussions. The maximum number of course participants is 25. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion. It is also possible to audit the course.

Course outline

Week 1: What is genocide and why does it happen? – multi-disciplinary answers
Week 2: Two case studies: Bosnia and Rwanda
Week 3: The Genocide Convention: victims, perpetrators, acts
Week 4: State responsibility and the International Court of Justice; humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect
Week 5: Criminal tribunals, truth and reconciliation
Week 6: ‘Genocide’ in Darfur: have we learned the lessons?

About the instructor: Gerd Oberleitner

instructor photo_Gerd OberleitnerDr. Gerd Oberleitner is professor of international law at the University of Graz (Austria), where he works at the Institute of International Law and International Relations. His research interests are primarily in international human rights law, humanitarian law, human security and the law of international organisations. From 1998 to 1999 he served as Legal Adviser in the human rights and humanitarian law department of the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and has in subsequent years joined the Austrian governmental delegation to sessions of the (then) UN Human Rights Commission. From 1999 to 2002 he was the Executive Secretary of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC) in Graz. From 2002 to 2004 he was Lecturer in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and subsequently Visiting Fellow at the LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights until 2007. He was visiting professor/scholar at the University of Prishtina, the European Inter-University Centre Venice and the Université du Quebéc à Montréal. For more than fifteen years, he has taught international law and international human rights law in a number of institutions and summer schools and in the Venice and Sarajevo Master Programmes on Human Rights and Democratisation. He has been an instructor for HREA e-learning courses since 2003. His publications include Global Human Rights Institutions: Between Remedy and Ritual (Cambridge, Polity, 2007) and Human Rights in Armed Conflict – Law, Practice, Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Who should apply

The course is aimed at university students and graduates of international relations, international law, politics and other areas, NGO staff members, staff of international organisations and other practitioners who want to gain in-depth knowledge about genocide, its causes, consequences and the ways and means available under international law to respond to it. Participants should have a good written command of English and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. The number of participants is limited to 25 per course. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575; tuition for auditors: US$ 215. Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal, bank transfer (additional fee applies) and money transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram). Bulk rates are available. Payments are due upon registration.

How to register

Registration is closed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about HREA’s e-learning courses.