Amidst the frequent reports of serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing (combined also referred to as atrocity crimes) have gained increasing political momentum as a global issue. The response to such crimes, let alone their prevention, however, remains highly politicised, raising the question of whether states incur a legal obligation to prevent atrocity crimes.

States generally appear to accept that they incur some form of obligation, legal or otherwise, to prevent atrocity crimes. Foreign involvement to prevent or react to atrocities was traditionally considered to conflict with the principle of non-intervention in a sovereign state. This, however, does not reflect the conceptualisation of sovereignty to also encompass responsibilities towards states’ populations nor the modern efforts to reframe the principle to one of non-difference.

This thesis seeks to address conceptual challenges of atrocity prevention through the identification of legal obligations states incur to prevent atrocity crimes, their scope and practical conceptualisation, and explores states’ international responsibility arising from a breach of their obligation. It examines a practical legal approach to the application of atrocity prevention by exploring the parameters under which legal obligations of states to prevent atrocity crimes exists.

Yvonne is a PhD Candidate at the T.C. Beirne School of Law in affiliation with the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, The University of Queensland. Her research examines the obligation and international responsibility of states to prevent atrocity crimes. Her primary research interests are in the areas of general international law, international human rights and humanitarian law. She holds a Law Degree and LL.M. in International Legal Studies from the University of Vienna, and has previously worked as a research consultant in several projects.

HDR project title: The Prevention of Atrocity Crimes – Legal Obligations and State Responsibility: ‘We can, and we must, do better’

Supervisors: Prof Anthony Cassimatis, Prof Alexander Bellamy and Dr Eve Massingham

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  • Breitwieser-Faria, Yvonne, ’A A and Ai A v Federal Office for Migration and Asylum (Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl), Appeal decision, Ra 2015/18/0100 to 0101-12, ILDC 2525 (AT 2015), 15th December 2015, Austria; Higher Administrative Court [VwGH]’ (2017) OUP.
  • Breitwieser, Yvonne, ’L v Austria, Appeal decision, RV/0128-W/08, ILDC 2241 (AT 2014), 13th February 2008, Austria’ (2016) OUP.
  • Breitwieser, Yvonne, ‘Africa and the International Criminal Court: The Delegitimisation of the ICC?’ (LL.M. Thesis, University of Vienna 2015).