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Sovereignty, Genocide and the International Community (6897)



Objective: This course aims to help students understand and debate fundamental questions of state sovereignty, human rights and international intervention in the contemporary era.

Content: This course addresses morally urgent and politically complex issues that challenge our humanity while defying simple explanation or recommendation.

After the Nazis slaughtered millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other people they considered “sub-human” or otherwise undesirable, governments and individuals around the world declared “Never Again.” Nonetheless, humanity has experienced (planned, carried out, suffered, witnessed) multiple genocides since the Holocaust ended in 1945. If we add crimes against humanity, the list of mass atrocities grows far longer.

This horrifying record forces us to consider a number of questions — What is meant by the familiar term “international community”? Why have such atrocities not been prevented? What can be done? Is there any realistic prospect that such atrocities will be systematically (if not universally) eliminated, as slavery was in the 19th century? If so, how?

The course explores these questions by examining multiple cases of mass atrocities since 1945, the practice of the world’s great powers and the role of the United Nations, with special attention to the evolving norms of sovereignty and humanitarian intervention. The selection of historical cases is designed to illustrate particular themes; it is not comprehensive.

Methods of Instruction

This course will utilize a combination of lectures, open discussion and small group discussion. Assignments include traditional texts, newspaper articles, websites and YouTube films.

Study Material

Assigned reading are drawn from a variety of printed and internet sources and vary in quantity from day to day; they should be completed before the class session for which they are assigned. Unless indicated otherwise, journal articles may be accessed via the university library’s electronic collection. Two books must be read almost in their entirety and are therefore strongly recommended for purchase:

  • Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. Oxford University Press, 2000

  • Karen E. Smith, Genocide and the Europeans. Cambridge University Press, 2010


The course grade will be based upon completion of two essays based on assigned readings and class discussions. The essays should be 3000-3500 words in length and should be written in English. The question for each essay will be distributed in class (dates to be announced) and the written essay must be submitted by the following class session (dates to be announced). To succeed on the essays, students will need to be familiar with assigned readings and with issues raised in class discussion, and they will need to be able to frame a coherent argument that responds directly to the assignment (i.e., not simply recite facts).


Tuesday 3 February until 24 March, 11.00-13.00 hrs in 5A47 (except 3 February, 17, 24 March in 1A27, 10 February in 1A01)
Thursday 5 February until 26 March, 11.00-13.00 hrs in 1A22 (except 12 February in 1A21)

Entrance Requirements

International Security