‘Lessons in Humanity’: Re-Evaluating International Criminal Law’s Narrative of Progress in the Post 9/11 Era
Journal of International Criminal Justice, Volume 17, Issue 2, May 2019, Pages 229–257, Doi.org/10.1093/jicj/mqz015
58 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2019 Last revised: 29 Jan 2020
Date Written: June 1, 2019
A narrative of progressive evolution of law and society has been dominating international legal discourse, evident in both practice and scholarship. This progress narrative provocatively mocked as “lessons in humanity” in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds has been created through a rejection of revenge as a possible individual as well as collective response to mass atrocities and human rights violations. However, through an analysis of counter terrorism measures and cultural narratives of the post 9/11 era, this article argues that international criminal law’s anti-revenge narrative proves increasingly incommensurable with contemporary zeitgeist and undermines international law’s relevance to today’s reality.
The article traces the origins of the anti-revenge narrative to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and analyzes the impact of its progressive retribution in contemporary international criminal tribunals. It examines the growing divide between the progress narrative of the law and the reemergence of state revenge in response to threats of terror in the post 9/11 era, in contemporary military practices and popular culture. The article shows that while international legal narrative treats the rejection of revenge as a settled question, state practice and cultural outputs suggest a “return of the repressed” and that in fact the question is far from resolved.
Keywords: LAW AND LITERATURE, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL LAW, REVENGE AND RETRIBUTION, MASS ATROCITY
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