Geoffrey Robertson: Armenia and the G-word: The Law and the Politics

Founder and Head of Doughty Street Chambers, Geoffrey Robertson QC spoke at a conference organized by Alexis Demirdjian, the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the USC Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studies at The Hague entitled “The Armenian Genocide’s Legacy 100 Years Later.” Robertson’s speech was entitled, “Armenia and the G-Word: The Law and Politics.”


‘Genocide’ in common parlance is the word that comes to mind whenever a massive death toll results from a state-backed onslaught on people of a disliked, demeaned and different ethnic group. As a matter of international law, a state is responsible for genocide when its agents, with the intention of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, kill or cause serious mental or bodily harm to, or inflict destructive conditions of life on, such a group. There is never much doubt about the sufferings undergone by the group — the question of responsibility generally hinges on whether there is proof that political or military leaders intended to rid the country of the group as a social unit. It is not sufficient just to disperse its members, but it is certainly not necessary to liquidate them all. Size, in fact, does not matter — the World Court (the ICJ) held that there was genocide at Srebrenica, which involved the killing of 7,000 Muslim men and the deportation of 18,000 women and children.

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