William Schabas

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William A. Schabas, OC (born 19 November 1950)[1] is a Canadian academic in the field of international criminal and human rights law. He is professor of international law at Middlesex University, professor of international human law and human rights at Leiden University and an internationally respected expert on human rights law, genocide, and the death penalty. In 2009 he was elected President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.[2] He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. In 2014 he was appointed the head of a UN Committee investigating the Israeli role in the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict. The move was criticized by Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird [3] and Geneva based NGO UN Watch, due to previous records of Schabas' alleged anti-Israel bias, a charge that Schabas denies.[4]

Education and career[edit]

Schabas received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in History from the University of Toronto, and LL.B., LL.M. and LL.D. degrees from the University of Montreal, Canada. He has also been awarded honorary doctorates from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland and Northwestern University, Chicago. From 1991–2000 he was a professor of human rights law and criminal law at the University of Quebec, and chaired the Juridical Department from 1994–1998. He has taught as a visiting or adjunct professor at several other institutions, including McGill University, Queen's University Belfast, LUISS University in Rome, Cardoza Law School, Panthéon-Assas University and the National University of Rwanda. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights. Schabas served as one of seven commissioners on the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[5] Schabas served as one of six commissioners on the Iran Tribunal Truth Commission that was held for a period of five days from 18 to 22 June 2012.[4]


Schabas has authored or edited twenty-one books dealing in whole or in part with international human rights law including:

  • Essays on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Volume I. Diritto (n. 1). il Sirente, Fagnano Alto. 1999. p. 544. ISBN 978-88-87847-00-0. 
  • The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 3d ed., 2003)
  • Essays on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Volume II. Diritto (n. 3). il Sirente, Fagnano Alto. 2004. p. 368. ISBN 978-88-87847-02-4. 
  • The U.N. International Criminal Tribunals: The Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • An Introduction to the International Criminal Court (Cambridge University Press, 3d ed. 2007)
  • War Crimes and Human Rights: Essays on the Death Penalty, Justice and Accountability (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  • Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes (Cambridge University Press, 2d ed., 2009)
  • The International Criminal Court: A Commentary on the Rome Statute (Oxford University Press, 2010)

He has also published more than 300 articles in academic journals, primarily in the field of international human rights law and international criminal law.[5]

Abolition of the Death Penalty[edit]

Schabas has been very active in the movement for world-wide abolition of capital punishment. His influential book The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 3d ed., 2003) and his other writings on the subject have been referred to in judgments of national and international tribunals, including the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of the Philippines. Schabas regularly lectures on capital punishment in China and the United States. In 2009, he was the consultant to the United Nations responsible for preparing the Secretary-General's quinquennial report on the status of capital punishment. Schabas is the Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Academic Network Against the Death Penalty and for a Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment and Advisor to the International Centre for Death Penalty Research which is based at Beijing Normal University, Beijing.

Views on Genocide[edit]

Schabas argues that the legal term "genocide" is a loaded one that should not be used to describe every atrocity involving mass killings. In the strict legal sense, the only true "genocides" in recent history, he argues, were the Armenian Genocide, the Jewish and Gypsy Holocaust, and the Rwandan Genocide. Thus his book, Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes (Cambridge University Press, 2d ed., 2009), supports the view that Stalin’s atrocities in the Ukraine, the killings of Slav and Soviet citizens under the Nazi occupation, and the Holodomor were not, legally, genocide.[6] He was also criticized for denying internationally recognized Srebrenica Genocide. [7] The same book treats the Bosnian atrocities as ethnic cleansing and not as genocide, in contrast to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which ruled the crimes committed in Srebrenica to constitute genocide.[8] However, it criticises the United Nations General Assembly for recognising ethnic cleansing as genocide.

His later book, War Crimes and Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2008), states that the killings by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the late 1970s lacked "the ethnic dimension that is part of the essence of the crime [of genocide]."[9] Schabas took the same position in 2001 in Cambodia: Was it Really Genocide?.[10] Further, while strongly condemning the atrocities in Darfur, Schabas says that they should not be labelled genocide because, he argues in War Crimes and Human Rights, "the summary execution" of non-Arabs in Darfur "does not establish genocidal intent." The book War Crimes and Human Rights also criticises the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for finding a joint criminal enterprise to commit genocide in Srebrenica.[11] The relatively restrictive interpretation of the crime of genocide that Schabas has advocated has been largely confirmed in the case law of such institutions as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Political views[edit]

In a 2009 blog post, Schabas wrote about the failure of the UN to hold a mature, thoughtful and productive conference on racial discrimination that "those who deserve the blame are Israel and its friends, who have manipulated the truth about the nature of the work of the United Nations by gross exaggeration of the role and intervention of certain fanatics,...and provocative politicians like Mohamed Ahmadinejad, who in desperation make absurd statements that probably deserve to be ignored rather than exaggerated"[12] This has often been misquoted.[13][14][15]

In 2011, Schabas went to Iran, to co-sponsor conferences with the Tehran-based Center for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity, where he was keynote speaker. The center has close ties with former Iranian president President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.[16]

Also in 2011, Schabas said in a speech that he believes Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu should be "in the dock of an international court." He also wrote in a law journal article that the Israeli prime minister could be regarded as "the single individual most likely to threaten the survival of Israel."[17]

In 2012, in regard to Iranian Nuclear program, Shabas wrote that Iran “very arguably has a claim to require nuclear weapons for defensive purposes”[18]

Regarding Hamas, Shabas said “If we look at the poor people of Gaza...all they want is a state – and they get punished for insisting upon this, and for supporting a political party in their own determination and their own assessment that seems to be representing that aspiration” [19]

Schabas has accused Israel of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression committed “on the territory of Palestine since 2002,” while acknowledging that “much of [his] effort” is focused on bringing about the prosecution of Israelis at the ICC.[20]

During his speech at the Russell Tribunal in 2013, Schabas said that it is his "profound belief, the international law can be used to demonstrate and underscore the violations committed by the state of Israel, and moreover can be used to hold accountable individuals who have perpetrated international crimes against the people of Palestine." Asked about various possible tools for prosecuting Israel, Schabas said: "I would have been inclined to talk about crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression, all of which I think can be shown have been perpetrated at various times during the history of the state of Israel. These are all crimes that have become increasingly robust in their definition in recent decades and for which we now have international institutions capable of prosecuting the crimes..With a bit of luck and by twisting things and maneuvering we can get them before the courts"[21]

2014 UN Gaza inquiry[edit]

The United Nations Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution on 23 July 2014 calling on establishment of commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian laws carried out by Israel in 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.[22] Schabas was appointed the head of a 3 member commission, together with Amal Alamuddin (Lebanon) who declined the nomination, [23] and Doudou Diène (Senegal). Schabas's appointment was criticized by Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird and Geneva based NGO UN Watch, as Schabas previously called for “going after” former Israeli president Shimon Peres in the International Criminal Court, asking, “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?" [24][25][26] The Israeli government condemned the appointment of Schabas, while Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor said in an interview "Forming an investigatory committee headed by Schabas is like inviting ISIS to organize religious tolerance week at the UN,"[27]Shabas replied that he does not hate Israel and that he will put his his prior positions aside."“Even if Spiderman was heading the probe, they (Israel) would’ve attacked him,” he said.[28]


A concise overview of his views on the invasion of the Israel forces in the Gaza strip, the Goldstone report, racism in Europe, death penalty, genocide, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Court, the ICC arrest warrant of President of Sudan Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and international criminal law in general can be found at his interview in the journal Intellectum.[29][30]


  1. ^ Schabas, William (27 April 2009). "curriculum vitae: William Schabas" (PDF). Retrieved 27 June 2009. 
  2. ^ Professor William Schabas, President of IAGS, NUI Galway, 2009
  3. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Head-of-UNHRCs-Gaza-probe-disputes-claims-hes-anti-Israeli-370850
  4. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/william-schabas-head-of-un-gaza-commission-dismisses-anti-israel-charge-1.2733740
  5. ^ a b Schabas, supra note 1
  6. ^ Schabas, William (18 September 2000). Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78790-4. Retrieved 16 May 2009. 
  7. ^ Who is Prof. William Schabas? Aug 14, 2014. Sarajevo-based NGO: Bosniak & Jewish Friendship.
  8. ^ Schabas, William (18 September 2000). Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes. Cambridge University Press. pp. 175–200. ISBN 0-521-78790-4. Retrieved 16 May 2009. 
  9. ^ Schabas, William (31 March 2008). War Crimes and Human Rights. Cameron May. p. 766. ISBN 1-905017-63-4. Retrieved 16 May 2009. 
  10. ^ William Schabas, Cambodia: Was it Really Genocide?, 23 HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 470, 470–77 (2001).
  11. ^ Schabas, William (31 March 2008). War Crimes and Human Rights. Cameron May. p. 751. ISBN 1-905017-63-4. Retrieved 16 May 2009. 
  12. ^ Schabas, William A. "Naomi Klein on the Durban II Conference". Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  13. ^ http://www.timesofisrael.com/day-36-gaza-ceasefire-agreement-almost-at-hand-egyptians-report/
  14. ^ http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/65216
  15. ^ http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/08/11/un-watchdog-questions-appointment-of-clooney-fiancee-anti-israel-lawyer-on-gaza-inquiry-panel/
  16. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/iranian-human-rights-wrong-board-north-korea-cuba-article-1.979942
  17. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/william-schabas-head-of-un-gaza-commission-dismisses-anti-israel-charge-1.2733740
  18. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-fatal-flaws-of-the-Schabas-Inquiry-375139
  19. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-fatal-flaws-of-the-Schabas-Inquiry-375139
  20. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-fatal-flaws-of-the-Schabas-Inquiry-375139
  21. ^ http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/184018#.U-ujNfmSzO8
  22. ^ http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/SpecialSessions/Session21/Pages/21stSpecialSession.aspx
  23. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Head-of-UNHRCs-Gaza-probe-disputes-claims-hes-anti-Israeli-370850
  24. ^ http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4557779,00.html
  25. ^ http://www.intellectum.org/articles/issues/intellectum7/en/Int'l%20Protection%20of%20Human%20Rights%20and%20Politics_English%20co-edited%20WS%20&%20VT3.pdf
  26. ^ http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/2014/08/11/ngo-william-schabas-must-recuse-himself-from-un-gaza-inquiry/
  27. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Known-Israel-critic-to-lead-UNHRC-Gaza-probe-370926
  28. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/I-dont-hate-Israel-head-of-UN-panel-probing-Gaza-operation-says-374919
  29. ^ Victor Tsilonis. "Interview with Professor William Schabas_International Protection of Human Rights and Politics: an Inescapable Reality," Intellectum 7, (2010): pp.46–61.
  30. ^ <http://www.intellectum.org/articles/issues/intellectum7/en/Int'l%20Protection%20of%20Human%20Rights%20and%20Politics_English%20co-edited%20WS%20&%20VT3.pdf/

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