Editorial #19: Taking Time
As in the months before, Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has continued to play a central role in the contributions to Völkerrechtsblog. The interview with Alain Pellet, in which he explains why he thinks Russia has become an indefensible client – and why he had not come to this conclusion before – touches upon another recurring theme: ethical responsibilities of international legal scholars and practitioners.
One way of exercising the office of the international legal scholar in an ethically responsible manner is by communicating scholarly concepts and debates to the broader public. In this vein, Tillmann Lindner argued that the forced grain acquisitions by Russian Forces in Ukraine violate international humanitarian law. Similarly, Niklas Reetz reacted to an infamous open letter signed by German public intellectuals by offering his take as an international lawyer. In his piece, he links Ukrainian self-defense to the defense of human rights and therefore makes a case for continuing to support Ukraine and for doing so in a more decisive manner. Reflecting on the use of international law terminology in public debates more broadly, Lorenz Rubner and Lisa M. Cohen contrasted popular uses of the term ‘mercenaries’ with its counterpart in international humanitarian law.
Even though it may seem like that from time to time, Ukraine has not been the only topic the articles on Völkerrechtsblog covered in July. Paolo Mazzotti commented on progress, missed opportunities, and shortcomings in the WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies. Abhijeet Shrivastava assessed India’s (lack of) regulation regarding hate speech in light of its duties to prevent genocide under the Genocide Convention of 1948. Diego Sanchez Borjas draws our attention back to another ongoing crisis, which continues in spite of sustained efforts to ignore it: the Covid-19 pandemic. In his piece, Sanchez Borjas considered the proposal of adopting a new pandemic treaty and makes a case for amending the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations.
In cooperation with the University of Vienna and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental Rights, we hosted a symposium commemorating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute and reflecting on ‘The Past and Future of the International Criminal Court’. Damien Scalia critically reflected on the role of international criminal justice. Based on interviews he conducted with people who have been tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he comes to the grim conclusion that ‘the war in which the crimes were committed persists through the international criminal trial’. Taking a more doctrinal approach, Ingrid Mitgutsch focused on the gravity requirement contained in article 17(1)(d) of the Rome Statute. Increased relevance of the gravity requirement as developed by the Appeals Chamber in the Al Hassan case could possibly be one way of addressing one of the main lines of criticism waged against the International Criminal Court (ICC) as an institution, namely double standards in its prosecutorial practice. Lukas Emanuel Müller highlighted the role of the troubled history of the relationship between the ICC and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in imposing and perpetuating such double standards. In a similar vein, Gabriel Lentner considers the practice of UNSC referrals to the ICC to have proved unsuccessful after 20 years and advocates strengthening and supporting domestic prosecutions based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. Harmen van der Wilt was less optimistic about the role of domestic jurisdictions in adjudicating international crimes and took a clear stance on what has to be done in the future of the ICC: cancel Article 15bis, section 5 of the Rome Statute so that the Court would be able to exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in all situations. Shifting the focus from the crime of aggression to sexual and gender-based crimes, Kim Thuy Seelinger sees a clear commitment of the ICC and concluded that ‘while challenges persist, significant progress has been made [on sexual and gender-based crimes] since the establishment of the ICC’.
The symposium on the past and future of the ICC – our practice of hosting regular symposia in general – reflects Völkerrechtsblog’s commitment to remain a ‘slow blog’. This means writing and publishing pieces not only to provide content for the sake of it or to react to current events as fast as possible but writing and publishing to engage. This requires time and also taking time off every now and then. In this spirit, we are taking two weeks off from posting from August 15th to August 28th 2022.
As Isabel Feichtner put it in a wonderful blog piece, which she wrote for EJIL Talk! in the summer of 2015:
‘It may indeed be the most forceful act of resistance and a precondition for gaining agency to reclaim time — be it from bullshit jobs, the internet or consumption. Time to walk on the beach, sit in the park, make music, recite poetry, think slow and dream of a revolution.’