Limiting The Potential For Bystander Apathy: On The Introduction Of A Duty To Rescue In International Law

Author:Donna Lyons
Position:LLB (Dub), LLM (International Legal Studies) (NYU). The author would like to thank Mattias Kumm for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. Special thanks also go to Christopher Gosnell and William Byrne for their inspiration and support during the author's term at the ICTY
Pages:118-127
[2010] COLR
LIMITING THE POTENTIAL FOR BYSTANDER APATHY: ON THE INTRODUCTION
OF A DUTY TO RESCUE IN INTERNATIONAL LAW
Donna Lyons *
ABSTRACT
You could read on the faces of the passers-by that we were written off as doomed. The
people of Lemberg had become accustomed to the sight of tortured Jews and they
looked at us as one looks at a herd of cattle being driven to the slaughter house. At such
times I was consumed by a feeling that the world had conspired against us and our fate
was accepted without a protest, without a trace of sympathy.
Simon Wiesenthal1
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
Edward Everett Hale2
A INTRODUCTION
This article examines the concept of Good Samaritanism in national law, and contrasts this
with the recent attempts of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia
to introduce the duty via international criminal law. The author assesses such developments,
in light of the psychological factors underlying the practice of bystander apathy during
periods of mass human rights violations, and consequently argues for the introduction of a
general duty to rescue in international law, separate and apart from the international criminal
justice system. In cases of mass atrocity, silence wins the day all too often. Vetlesen points
out that „[m]ost often, in cases of genocide, for every person directly victimized and killed
there will be hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions, who are neither directly targeted as
victims nor directly participating as perpetrators.‟3 Widespread and systematic human rights
abuse requires malicious intent by a small number of organised and powerful individuals.
However, evil only flourishes with the indifference of the masses. Local resistance serves the
purpose of seriously damaging the success of a project of human rights abuse. Conversely,
silence legitimises. In order to counteract this phenomenon, the author argues for the
*LLB (Dub), LLM (International Legal Studies) (NYU). The author would like to thank Mattias Kumm for
helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. Special thanks also go to Christopher Gosnell and William
Byrne for their inspiration and support during the author‟s term at the ICTY .
1 S Wiesenthal The Sunflower: On the P ossibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (Schocken Boo ks New Yor k
1998) 19.
2 E E Hale „Lend a Hand ‟ in James Dalton Morrison (ed) Master pieces of Religious Verse (1984) 416.
3 A J Vetlesen „A Case for the Responsibility of the Bystander ‟ (2000) 37 Journal of Peace Research No 4 515,
520.
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