Book Review: SHOCKING THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY

SHOCKING THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY – Gravity and the Legitimacy of International Criminal Law, by Margaret M. deGuzman, Oxford University Press, 2020, 217 pages, £80.00/$90.00

Global adjudicative authority is the authority that national and supranational institutions exercise when they adjudicate crimes on behalf of the global community…. [T]he moral justification for global prescription is the global community’s interest in preventing harm to human dignity. Global prescription is thus justified for all non-minimal harms to human dignity, and is most strongly legitimate for those in which the global community has the greatest interest. In contrast, the legitimacy of global adjudication depends not only on the strength of the global community’s interest in adjudication, but also on whether that interest outweighs any countervailing interests. (p. 98)

Prosecutors in national jurisdictions exercise their authority on what to charge or not charge, based on several variables, with gravity not playing much of a role – at least not in the context understood and applied in charging international crimes. Gravity is more likely to come to the fore at sentencing. It makes sense. The legislature criminalizes conduct based on societal/community norms. Thus, whether a particular set of circumstances should be prosecuted generally does not factor gravity into the mix, as such, when the evidence supports a reasonable assessment that the requisite elements in establishing the commission of a crime are met. Put differently, if in the prosecutor’s opinion, the evidence is qualitatively sufficient to meet his or her burden of proof in establishing that a particular individual committed crimes, save for ancillary factors that militate against prosecution, the prosecutor is expected to charge and prosecute that individual. I am oversimplifying for the sake of brevity, but the point is that in national prosecutions, “gravity” plays a lesser role on whether to charge or not. Even then, usually, there are criteria that guide prosecutors and judges – as readily apparent when fashioning sentences. Continue reading “Book Review: SHOCKING THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY”

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Book Review: THE OXFORD GUIDE TO INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW

The Oxford Guide to International Humanitarian Law, edited by Ben Saul & Dapo Akande, Oxford University Press, 2020, 442 pages, $ 49,95

You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.

Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting 

One of the most memorable scenes in the film Good Will Hunting is when Matt Damon – playing the exceptionally brilliant, success-shunning Will Hunting, who does construction day labor when not moonlighting as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, irreverently solving mind-twisting mathematical problems left on the blackboards by the professors for the students to solve – takes down an elitist, arrogant, and pretentious Harvard student who is toying with one of Will’s friends. I particularly liked the quote in this scene because of the truism of Will’s putdown: you can learn just as much by going to the books as you can by attending a top-flight university – and for a fraction of the cost.

Whenever I think of this scene, I am reminded of my torts professor who, upon entering the classroom the first day, dispensed with all expected formalities, and disabused many of us from thinking that we were in law school to stuff as much law into our heads as possible, saying: Those of you who want to learn the law go to the library, you will find it in the books. Those of you who wish to learn to think like lawyers and know what to do with the law once you find it in the library, stay. Continue reading “Book Review: THE OXFORD GUIDE TO INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW”

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Book Review: Imagining Justice for Syria

Imagining Justice for Syria, by Beth Van Schaack, Oxford University Press, 2020, 476 pages, £64

It is tempting to conclude that our multilateral institutions do not have the capacity to address tragedies like Syria. However, the fault is not necessarily in the institutions themselves but with those who have the power to act. The law exists, as does a cadre of professionals with the necessary skills and a ready set of justice models; what is lacking is the ability to achieve a political consensus on a path forward, or a willingness to proceed without such a consensus, with respect to situations like Syria, where there has been no regime change, where atrocities are ongoing, and – most importantly – where the great powers find themselves at odds with each other. The long-standing weakness in our system of international justice is made all more pronounced by the situation in Syria.

It has been over a decade since we last went about our daily lives without having to hear about, or see on the news or social media, atrocities being committed in Syria. Just reflect on all that has happened to you since 2011 (what you accomplished at university or work, the events in your personal life, your travels, your joys and your losses), and just imagine what your life would have been like were you to trade all of those memories and experiences for a decade of living in Syria, under or in flight from the Assad Regime, gassed and poisoned, terrorized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), deprived of virtually every human right and human dignity, constantly under fear or on the run, watching loved ones and friends being tortured, maimed, killed, living in refugee camps, crossing dangerous lands and waters in search for safety only to find closed border-crossings by hostile governments, and so on. Continue reading “Book Review: Imagining Justice for Syria”

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Book Review: Lives of the Stoics – The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

Lives of the Stoics – The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius, by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, Profile Books, 2020, 326 pages, €19.95

Panaetius argues that if we are to live an ethical life and chose appropriate actions, we must find a way to balance:

1) the roles and duties common to us all as human beings;

2) the roles and duties unique to our individual daimon, or personal genius/calling;

3) the roles and duties assigned to us by the chance of our social station (family and profession);

4) the roles and duties that arise from decisions and commitments we have made.

Lives of the Stoics, p. 81

It has been a trying and challenging year. Although there is light at the end of this dark COVID-19 tunnel in which we find ourselves, this light – promised by miracle vaccines discovered in record time – sadly, may not come soon enough for many. The winter holiday season is supposed to make us jolly and joyful. But let’s be honest. For some, even under normal circumstances, it is not the best of times.

Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “[t]here is no role so well suited to philosophy as the one you happen to be in right now.” Words that were as relevant for his days as they are for ours. Some of us, our friends, our family members, may be or believe themselves to be in a difficult, dispirited, disconnected place with no relief on the horizon. Some of us may be blessed with unusual success, feeling euphoric. Some of us may simply be doing okay, grateful to have survived 2020 and happy to be where we are – physically, mentally, and professionally. Continue reading “Book Review: Lives of the Stoics – The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius”

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Book Review: Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption and The Guardians

Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, One World (Reprint edition), 2015, 368 pages, €9.79

The Guardians, by John Grisham, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2020, 384 pages, €10.75

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

                                                                  Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

On 10 December 2020, Brandon Bernard was put to death after spending 20 years on death row for his involvement in a double homicide when he was 18 years old. By all accounts, he was a model prisoner, genuinely remorseful, and rehabilitated. His dying words to the victims’ families were:

I’m sorry. That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day. Continue reading “Book Review: Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption and The Guardians”

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Book Review – Comparative Reasoning in International Courts and Tribunals

Comparative Reasoning in International Courts and Tribunals, by Daniel Peat, Cambridge University Press, 2019, 258 pages, € 29 (paperback).  Winner of the 2020 European Society of International Law Book Prize.

A word is not a crystal, transparent, and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.


Oliver Wendall Holmes, Towne v. Eisner, 245 US 418, 425 (1918)

Daniel Peat’s parting thoughts in Comparative Reasoning in International Courts and Tribunals are that if we are to “understand the complexity and contextuality that interpretation inevitably entails” in both international law and domestic law, we need to acknowledge the “mutability” that US Supreme Court Justice Holmes speaks of in Towne v. Eisner (p. 221). Put differently, when interpreting a word, a term, a rule, a law, a treaty, context matters. Any practitioner worth his salt knows this. So, what’s new? Continue reading “Book Review – Comparative Reasoning in International Courts and Tribunals”

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Book Review – The Elgar Companion to THE EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERS IN THE COURTS OF CAMBODIA

The Elgar Companion to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, by Nina H.B. Jørgensen, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018, 404 pages, £ 144.00

With the benefit of hindsight, would the Cambodian government and the international community have joined hands and built the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)? Possibly not. The Court has received more criticism than acclaim and is generally touted as a model not to be followed.

Nina H.B. Jørgensen, p. 359  

The Elgar Companion to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of CambodiaAnyone interested in the trials, tribulations, and contributions of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to the development of international criminal law and justice, look no further than Professor Nina H.B. Jørgensen’s outstanding primer, The Elgar Companion TO THE EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERS IN THE COURTS OF CAMBODIA (The Companion to the ECCC)If there are any doubts about the ECCC’s legacy, particularly its positive contribution to international criminal jurisprudence, Professor Jørgensen has put them to rest. Thanks to her critical analysis of the ECCC’s procedures, of the cases tried and currently under investigation, and of the jurisprudence the ECCC has produced over the past decade – especially considering the general environment and context in which the ECCC operates – it is hard not to be impressed with the accomplishments of the ECCC, despite its numerous shortcomings and disappointing failures. Continue reading “Book Review – The Elgar Companion to THE EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERS IN THE COURTS OF CAMBODIA”

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Book Review: Seeking Accountability for the Unlawful Use of Force

Seeking Accountability for the Unlawful Use of Force, Leila Nadya Sadat ed., Cambridge University Press, 2018, 612 pages, £ 26.99

Classic understandings about the demarcation between war and peace are not just quixotic remnants of a bygone era, but core underpinnings of the international legal system that are eroded at the peril of the entire world.

Leila Nadya Sadat, p. 556

Professor Leila Nadya Sadat

Had it been up to me I would have retitled Seeking Accountability for the Unlawful Use of Force (Seeking Accountability) to something like: The International Crime of Aggression: past failures, present shortcomings, and future possibilities. Even if you think you know all there is to know about criminalizing aggression as an international crime, you are bound to find this collection of articles exceptionally rewarding. And if you really want to treat yourself, read it cover to cover as it has been smartly organized and edited by Washington University Law School Professor Leila Nadya Sadat. Spoiler alert: Seeking Accountability is dense, packed with information and source material that provokes and stimulates – not a quick or effortless read. Continue reading “Book Review: Seeking Accountability for the Unlawful Use of Force”

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Book Review – The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World

The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World, by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017, 578 pages, $30

In short, the Peace Pact formed the background of rules and assumptions against which the rest of the new system operated. As states adapted to the transformed legal order, their adaptations helped reinforce those new rules and become reasons of their own for playing by them. The Pact did not bring about the end of conquest and interstate war on its own; no treaty, no law could have. But it was a necessary start, the beginning of the end of the Old World Order.

The Internationalists, p. 335

Tensions around the world seemed to have heightened with the election of U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Maybe it has nothing to do with him; maybe it is just his in-your-face style that tends to make us more aware of how dangerous and volatile the world has become. It is hard to point to a region on the global map and not find a conflict that has just ended, is raging on, or about to start. The most eye-popping conflict started as a civil war in Syria in 2011. The end is not in sight despite the use of an inordinate amount of hard and soft power by regional state players and their proxies, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations (UN), the European Union, and so on. Red lines have been drawn and crossed, chemical weapons used against combatants and non-combatants, indiscriminate bombings of civilian-populated areas, acts of terror committed with an aim to make life so unbearable so as to bring about death or forced dislocation. All of this and much more in the name of sovereign rights, self-defense, security (national, regional, international), reprisals, deterrence (sending messages), and, of course, peace. Continue reading “Book Review – The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World”

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Book Review – Punishing Atrocities Through a Fair Trial: International Criminal Law from Nuremberg to the Age of Global Terrorism

Punishing Atrocities Through a Fair Trial: International Criminal Law from Nuremberg to the Age of Global Terrorism, by Jonathan Hafetz, Cambridge University Press, 2018, 191 pages, £ 85.00 ($ 90.00)

You must put no man on trial under the forms of judicial proceedings if you are not willing to see him freed if not proved guilty…the world yields no respect to courts that are merely organized to convict.

Justice Robert H. Jackson,
Speech to American Society of International Law cited in Henry T. King, Jr’s The Legacy of Nuremberg, Case Western Journal of International Law 34 (2002), 335, 336

If asked to recommend three books to a newly-minted judge at any of the international(ized) criminal tribunals or courts, but especially at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Jonathan Hafetz’s Punishing Atrocities Through a Fair Trial – International Criminal Law from Nuremberg to the Age of Global Terrorism (Punishing Atrocities) would be one of them. Indeed, I would suggest it as essential reading for judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and any judicial staff. I would also recommend Punishing Atrocities as obligatory reading for any introductory courses on International Criminal Law (ICL).

Image result for jonathan Hafetz
Professor Jonathan Hafetz

Jonathan Hafetz, a professor of law at Seton Hall University School of Law, admirably shows the tension between the need for establishing individual accountability for suspects and accused alleged to have committed or contributed to mass atrocities and the need to accord them fair trials based on recognized international principles and standards. Reconciling these two aims has been an ongoing process since the creation of the post-World War II International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg and for the Far East in Tokyo. While the divide remains, much progress has been made in affording greater due process to suspects and accused, in part, because of a higher recognition that acceptance of judicial results at the international(ized) criminal tribunals and courts is enhanced and fostered through fair trials and ensuing perceptions. Meanwhile, the experimentation of cobbling together procedural modalities from different legal systems for fairer procedural justice continues. Continue reading “Book Review – Punishing Atrocities Through a Fair Trial: International Criminal Law from Nuremberg to the Age of Global Terrorism”

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