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Home Archive for category "International Law in Art, Literature, Thought"

A Moving Conference: Rights, Justice and Memories of the City

Published on November 21, 2017        Author: 

Conferences rarely get reviewed (but see a recent such review here), but given the amount of time, money and carbon emissions that goes into them, we may wish to evaluate them. Moreover, in reviewing a conference, we can try to capture and share an experience that, unlike a book, cannot be picked up again.

The conference Rights, Justice, and Memories of the City that took place in Lviv, Ukraine, from 9 to 12 November, is worth an attempt at capturing. If allowed to pick only one adjective, I would choose ‘moving’. Unlike most academic conferences, the conference involved a lot of physical moving around: the opening lecture took place at the Ukrainian Catholic University; the workshop next day, Placeless/Placeness: Ideas of Rights and Justice in Eastern Europe, was at the Center for Urban History and in the city hall on the city’s beautiful main square; the Saturday included a discussion at the Mayor’s office, a three-hour city walk and an art performance in the Lviv Philarmonic; while the Sunday offered a visit to the nearby town of Zhovkva. These were not mere ‘excursions’, agenda items peripheral to the core business of seated discussion. Rather, they were key to what was being discussed throughout the conference, including during the walks: the role of a place in the development of ideas on rights and justice.

Inspired by Philippe Sands’s celebrated East West Street: On the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity (Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016, published in Ukrainian in September 2017), this event connected Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin and their legal work to the socio-political context within which they developed. Historians provided brilliant insights into the need for members of minorities to think and act in a cosmopolitan way. Reut Paz outspokenly illustrated the significance of Lemberg/Lwów/Lviv/Lvov with an excerpt from the Eichmann trial, where Eichmann mentions that it was here that he saw something he had not seen before: ‘Blutfontänen’, fountains of blood springing up from the soil due to the extent of killing of Jews that had taken place. Sean Murphy explained how the International Law Commission was working on a draft convention on the prevention and suppression of crimes against humanity, a concept inserted in the Nuremberg Charter at Lauterpacht’s recommendation. And the Ukrainian Judge on the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Ganna Yudkivska, pleaded civil society to continue its fight for human rights in an environment of backlash. Read the rest of this entry…

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Strange Angel: Some Reflections on War

Published on December 14, 2015        Author: 

The philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin owned a print, Angelus novus, by Paul Klee. In his essay, Theses on the philosophy of history, Benjamin’s Ninth Thesis recalled that it depicted:

An angel…who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment…to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.

This image and idea has been influential in philosophy and culture, for example, check out this song by Laurie Anderson.

A while ago, I was asked to write some reflections on war and international law. Deadlines whooshed past, but it is finally finished. International law, at least traditionally, saw war and peace as mutually exclusive—“there is no middle ground between war and peace” (Grotius, De iure belli ac pacis (1625) Book III, Ch.XXI, 1), although this dichotomy predated Grotius by centuries. At least since the end of the First World War, peace has been seen as the normal condition in international relations, with war characterised as an abnormal state of affairs. But what is the function of war in the international community? Read the rest of this entry…

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Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall”: A Disappointed Dream of Peace Through Law

Published on September 2, 2014        Author: 

In “L220px-Alfred_Lord_Tennyson_1869ocksley Hall”–a lesser known masterpiece of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (pictured left)–a soldier ruminates on the disappointments of his youthful passion and idealism. Below is an excerpt in which the narrator reflects on his earlier vision of a future of peace through international law and commerce and his later disillusionment with that dream. The poem is remarkably post-modern given that it was first published in 1842. Despite the skepticism of the modernist, internationalist project expressed in the poem, Winston Churchill reportedly called it “the most wonderful of modern prophecies,” and U.S. President Harry Truman–in office when the UN was formed with his strong support–is said to have carried it in his wallet.  Here is the excerpt:

Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;

And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

So I triumph’d ere my passion sweeping thro’ me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;

Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point:

Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

The entire poem (which, I note, shows its age in its protagonist’s thoughts on women and non-European peoples) is available here.

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The Peace of Utrecht in 1713, a Painting by Semiramis Öner Mühüdaroğlu

Published on July 7, 2014        Author: 

Treaty of UtrechtThe Treaty of Utrecht was until recently one of the few major peace treaties that had not been commemorated in a painting or photograph. The  treaty was finally memorialized on the occasion of its 300-year anniversary last year in a painting (pictured left, click to enlarge) by Turkish artist Semiramis Öner Mühüdaroğlu.

The Treaty of Utrecht was in fact a group of bilateral treaties that helped to end the War of Spanish Succession, which was being fought among European States including Spain, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Savoy, and the Dutch Republic. During negotiations lasting nearly fourteen months, from 29 January 1712 to 11 April 1713, the States reached compromises that included cessions of territories in both Europe and the Americas as well as recognitions and renunciations of various sovereign titles. 

Although the treaties were not concluded in a single signing moment, the artist depicts the diplomats who negotiated the various agreements together in the ballroom of the Utrecht Town Hall, posed as if they have just signed an agreement. Among the diplomats are five allegorical figures. These include a child holding a globe, symbolizing the various geographies touched by the treaty; a female figure holding an olive branch and dove, representing peace; and another woman holding an open book to symbolize  justice.

The painting was commissioned by the foundation that owns the Oudaen City castle, where the French emissary Melchior de Polignac and his retinue stayed during the protracted peace negotiations. The painting is housed at the Townhall of Utrecht.

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“The City and the City” and Public International Law

Published on October 16, 2013        Author: 

City and CityThe City and the City. It is, at its core, a novel about jurisdiction, and its setting is one of Miéville’s most fascinating creations. Miéville himself is no stranger to international law, being the author of Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (2005). His novel demonstrates an unsurprising interest with the possibilities of law and its relationship to society and culture.

Superficially, The City and the City is a police procedural. In Besźel, a declining city-state somewhere in Eastern Europe, inspector Tyador Borlú finds a murdered woman. The suspicion is she was murdered in the neighbouring city-state of Ul Qoma. The extraordinary part of the novel is the relationship between these two cities. They are legally separate sovereign nations occupying the same physical space. While some “total” streets or districts belong entirely to one nation or the other, many are “crosshatched”. In these areas the two cities physically coexist alongside each other but legally their citizens may not interact, nor in any manner acknowledge each other’s existence, nor respond to events occurring in the “other” city. This difficulty is managed by the cultural practice of “unseeing” those things one is not legally entitled to see. (Given a moment’s thought this is less implausible than many speculative or weird fiction premises. Most of us unsee things of greater and lesser importance in our urban environment we find inconvenient to acknowledge: the homeless, the mentally disturbed, those collecting for charity, tedious acquaintances, etc.) Read the rest of this entry…

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