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Ultranationalist Genocides: Failures of Global Justice in Nigeria and Pakistan

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image of International Journal on Minority and Group Rights

International law entered a period of accelerated change in the decade after the genocide of the Ibo people in Nigeria. By 1979, jurists had drafted much-needed reforms to international law in the areas of prohibited methods of war, the rights of refugees, and the infliction of severe pain to punish dissent or to discriminate on racial or religious grounds. These reforms, if implemented in good faith, provide a basis for international criminal tribunals to punish the widespread killing and abuse of civilians in non-international armed conflicts. International courts analysed few such conflicts in the decades after the Genocide Convention entered into force, despite the aim of the convention to prevent genocide by public or private actors, in time of war or peace, and by targeting a group in whole or in part. This article analyses the Ibo genocide in terms of the techniques used by the Nigerian army to destroy the Ibo ethnic group in substantial part, including massacres of Ibo civilians, imposition of widespread and disease epidemics on the Ibos, and rape of Ibos as a matter of policy. It surveys the influence of the Biafran genocide on the evolution of international norms relating to war crimes, refugees, and torture. The international community multiplied norms in lieu of enforcing them, in this case as in others.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Law, Florida International University College of Law, Miami, FL, USA,


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