An Inherent Right to Health: Reviving Article II(C) of the Genocide Convention

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Adi Radhakrishnan is a member of the Columbia Law School Class of 2021.

Modern discourse on the Genocide Convention focuses primarily on cases of mass murder characterized by the overt targeting and persecution of a protected group, with the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia serving as the contemporary paradigms. Notably, however, only one of the five provisions in Article II of the Convention, which defines the acts that constitute genocide, addresses mass killings. Of particular relevance, the “conditions of life” provision, Article II(c), has been neglected in scholarship and doctrinal development, ultimately falling out of the scholarship on genocide. As a result, numerous atrocity crimes have been relatively ignored over the last half-century that the Convention has been in force, even when they warranted scrutiny or preventive action by the international community.

This Note aims to address the currently narrow application of the Convention by reviving Article II(c). It will analyze the intent and origin behind the Genocide Convention by surveying the negotiating history of the Convention and examining one of the first petitions submitted to the United States to enforce Convention obligations, as well as subsequent genocide case law, in order to uncover the legal history of Article II(c). From this history, this Note argues that since its inception, the Article II(c) provision has encompassed a robust right to health protection that has gone largely unrecognized in its current application. This Note then incorporates the original intent and understanding of Article II(c) into a framework that aligns with both the enumerated definition of genocide as well as any prevention obligations States hold under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and the treaty itself. This framework is ultimately applied to the Uyghur Muslim Crisis in Western China to demonstrate how returning to the original protectionist scope of Article II(c) can assist practitioners and advocates in addressing atrocity crimes.

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