nl en

Sovereignty, Genocide and the International Community



Purpose: 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

This module has a demanding reading load. Specific readings per session will be announced before the first session.


The course grade will be based upon completion of three essays based on assigned readings and class discussions. The essays should be 2000-2500 words in length and should be written in English. The question for each essay will be distributed in class (4 November, 18 November, 9 December) and the written essay must be submitted by the following class session (7 November, 21 November, 12 December). To succeed on the essays, students will need to be familiar with assigned readings and with issues raised in lecture and 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).


Monday 28 October until 16 December, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 1A24
Thursday 31 October until 19 December, 15.00-17.00 hrs in 5B16 (the building will close at 16.00 hrs on 5 December)

Entrance Requirements