The Crime of Genocide in General Assembly Resolutions: Legal Foundations and Effects


The past decade has seen increased scholarly attention on the practice and latent potential of the United Nations General Assembly (‘Assembly’) to secure accountability for atrocity crimes. This increased focus has arisen primarily due to growing frustration over permanent member deadlock in the Security Council in the face of documented atrocities. One aspect of this nascent research agenda yet to be analysed is the invocation of the crime of genocide in Assembly resolutions and practice. Studies have shown the Security Council to have applied the genocide label selectively and only where aligned with the permanent members’ interests. Can the same be said about the Assembly? This article tracks the use of the genocide norm in Assembly resolutions, revealing two major functions: prescriptive and quasi-judicial. It notes that Resolution 96(I) (1946) has had a pervasive influence on the development of the crime of genocide. Still, later attempts in the Assembly to develop the genocide definition have enjoyed less success. Although the Assembly has been beset with political selectivity in the use of the genocide label, the rise of commissions of inquiry in UN practice can usefully augment a closer dialogue between their outputs and Assembly resolutions, as recent resolutions concerning alleged crimes against the Rohingya show.