EAST WEST STREET: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”

Bernard-Henri Levy in The New York Times:

Levi“A man’s home is his castle,” Joseph ­Goebbels told the League of Nations in 1933, so “we will deal as we see fit” with our various “opponents” and, in particular, “our Jews.” At the time, Goebbels’s view was almost universally shared. However shocking, detestable and morally indefensible it might seem today, no one dreamed of contesting it then. ­Sovereignty — a term that muddled people’s right to decide for themselves and the right of despots to decide for their people — was the first and last word in international relations. If the same cannot be said today, if dictators are no longer seen to hold the power of life or death over their subjects, if the archcriminals of Cambodia, Sudan and Rwanda are ­indicted and sometimes even punished, in short, if the idea of international justice has gradually gained a semblance of meaning, we owe it to two ideas, or more precisely two concepts — as well as to the two men who brought them to life: Hersch Lauterpacht for the concept of the crime against humanity and Raphael Lemkin for that of genocide. Philippe Sands, a professor of law at University College London, recounts the life and work of both men in “East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity.’ ”

Sands begins by drawing distinctions between the two concepts. He is careful to show how, despite their complementarities, the two rest on different, even opposing, notions of rights. One is ­rooted in individual rights, the other in the rights of groups. One places at the top of the scale of offenses those perpetrated on individual men and women, the other the intention to annihilate the population or community from which those individuals spring.

More here.