DOI: 10.5553/CAYILIR/277314562022001001015

Central Asian Yearbook of International Law and International RelationsAccess_open

Book Review

Humanizing International Law: A Book About Values in International Law

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Tymur Korotkyi, 'Humanizing International Law: A Book About Values in International Law', (2022) Central Asian Yearbook of International Law and International Relations 283-287

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      Сендс Ф. Східно-західна вулиця. Повернення до Львова [Текст] : Філіп Сендс; переклад зангл. Павла Мигаля. – Львів : Видавництво Старого Лева, 2017. 652 с.

      Review of Philippe Sands, East-West Street: Return to Lviv, transl. by Pavlo Myhal. Lviv,Vydavnytstvo Starogo Leva, 2017. 652 pp.

      International law is much more than just a set of norms; it carries along important humanist values. Very often they can be deeply buried, hidden under the layers of norms, articles, paragraphs, conventions, and precedents. In international law, even less than in domestic law, a human being is visible, with her needs, desires, sufferings, and pleas. And when there are thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands, millions of these people? These multitudes are calling for help - in the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War, in the Hague Conventions on the Laws and Customs of War, in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, in the sentences of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, the Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and in the decisions of the International Criminal Court.
      Why and how were these conventions and tribunals created? What is behind the dry norms and strict sentences? What were the motives of the authors of these norms? What values did they protect? This is what Phillip Sands’ book, East-West Street: Return to Lviv, is about.
      Reading the book East-West Street brings to mind the role of personality - in history, in science, in law. The main characters of the book are Professors Lauterpacht and Lemkin, the respective creators of the concepts of crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide, eyewitnesses of unbearable sufferings and mass crimes - and the authors of fundamental institutions of modern international law, which stand guard over humanism and humanity.
      As specialists in international humanitarian law, we should recall another work with a powerful humanistic potential, the book that had a fundamental influence on the emergence of international humanitarian law. It is Henry Dunant’s A Memory of Solferino - a book that led to the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, the adoption of the Geneva Conventions, and to millions of lives saved and freed from suffering.
      What connects these two books that are different in genre, content, plot, and extent? What unites Dunant and Sands? It is humanism and international law - humanism seen as a value and international law seen as an instrument. Dunant’s A Memory of Solferino was permeated with human suffering and pain; it was written in empathy with ideas of a humane attitude to the wounded and sick. Dunant was not only the author of the book but also a participant in the events he described and the prophet of international humanitarian law. On the other hand, Sands’ book is about the past and about reasons, backgrounds, and ways that led Lauterpacht and Lemkin to their concepts. It is about responsibility for the Nazis’ abysmal evil, about an inevitable responsibility of the main criminals who committed international crimes. It is about the origin of the mechanisms created in London and Tokyo, and later in New York and Rome, and embodied in the statutes of the relevant international tribunals and courts.
      Lauterpacht and Lemkin played specific roles in shaping the ideas of universal international legal prohibitions of the crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide. While Lauterpacht’s contribution to the development of modern international law and the establishment of the human rights system, both as a legal theorist and as a Judge of the International Court of Justice, is undeniably huge, Lemkin’s sole outstanding achievement was the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. In fact, the Convention was like a child to Lemkin, who was obsessed with it. Moved by the tragic mass killing of Armenians in 1915, Lemkin began his work on the concept of genocide even before the terrible events of the World War II, before the Holocaust, in the 1930s, and his role in the adoption of the 1948 Convention was, without any exaggeration, crucial. The adoption of the 1948 Convention was a direct result of the Holocaust, but its significance and preventive role is much broader – it is important for every person, for every nation and for mankind as a whole.

      Though the Jews were concrete victims of the genocide, the consequences of it are of importance for the whole world, since it is not known who will be in the place of Jews next time.1xBauer 2018.

      Indeed, they were followed by Tutsis in Rwanda and Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.
      Many things are captured in Sands’ East-West Street: Return to Lviv. The author studied Lauterpacht’s life and scholarly path toward the concept of crime against humanity and its embodiment in the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal and Lemkin’s thorny road to the prohibition of genocide. Importantly, Sands managed to capture the inner world and the vicissitudes of the fates of men caught in geopolitical turns and involved in the tragic events of World War II. This book is also about the inevitability of descendants’ responsibility for acts committed by their ancestors. The events of the past always pay off in the future. Forgiveness and reconciliation can come only through repentance. In his foreword, Sands described his work thus:

      My book is about identity and memory. I want to note that no country has a monopoly on good or evil. Each of them has committed both good and bad deeds, like every person in this world. It is very important to remember that.

      And indeed, after all, individually and collectively, the past determines the present, and knowledge of the past will help us in the future. Learning about our parents and other ancestors is not only emotional and deeply personal but also allows us to understand ourselves, our actions, our mistakes, our destiny.
      The genre of Sands’ book is simultaneously an investigation, a historical novel, a biographical narrative, and a scientific study. In his book, Sands played many different roles. He is a professional historian who carefully collected and reconstructed facts related to the geopolitical events of the first half of the 20th century; he is a meticulous biographer who investigates and reproduces the history of his family, the history of Lauterpacht and Lemkin, and their biographies and destinies; he is an experienced investigator who conducted a thorough investigation of the crimes of Hans Frank and Otto von Wächter, the anti-heroes in the story; he is also a talented novelist, depicting the lives of the main characters in all their depth and contradictions. And, of course, he is an outstanding international law scholar who showed reasons for the formation and consolidation of such international legal concepts as human rights, crimes against humanity, and the crime of genocide.
      But in our opinion, despite the variety of genres, the book East-West Street: Return to Lviv, for which Sands received the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, remains a popular science book, one that popularizes, defends, explains, and glorifies international law, one that presents international law as an achievement of civilization and culture. Unfortunately, in the past, at least in the post-Soviet space, such popularization of science was not in demand and thus not really widespread. But in foreign literature, we can find a number of popular science bestsellers such as Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Undoubtedly, East-West Street: Return to Lviv now ranks among such bestsellers.
      In addition to the five main characters – Hersch Lauterpach, Raphael Lemkin, Leon Buchholz, Grandpa Sands, and the Nazi criminal Hans Frank, who were united by the tragic events of the Holocaust, World War II, and the Nuremberg trials, the main heroes of which Philippe Sands lovingly recounts, are Lviv and international law.
      East-West Street: Return to Lviv changes the perceptions of international law held by both professionals and amateurs, for it is a book that displays international law not as a normative phenomenon, not as a legal reality, but as a part of the overall culture, as an integral part of the development of universal morality and civilization. It is a book in which international law is a separate character, experiences its own defeats and victories, sorrows and misfortunes, helplessness, youth, and maturity.
      Sands personalizes and humanizes international law, bringing it closer to each of us and thus builds foundations for hope and faith in human dignity and justice. The book brings home to the reader international law’s instrumental and cultural value and offers an emotional perception of international law.
      This is why reading and discussing this book should be an integral part of the process of educating public international lawyers, so as to assist in the shaping of their professional worldview. It is especially important in the post-Soviet space, where the approach to both international law itself and its teaching was and often still is strictly instrumental and positivist. Among domestic lawyers, the idea of international law is often reduced to a number of (at times, ineffective) conventions, which leads to a nihilistic understanding of international law and to a distortion of its true understanding and perception.2xKorotkyi and Hendel 2016.
      Sands’ book discovers and humanizes international law, brings it to life, fills it with emotions, and reveals its axiological essence. East-West Street: Return to Lviv is an excellent example of inculcating interest in international law through its emotional perception.
      Sometime ago, while teaching international legal disciplines, we implemented a project on motivating students to study international law through its emotional perception. In the framework of the project, we recommended students to watch movies whose plots were somehow related to international crimes,3xKorotkyi 2014. and students also had to write an essay and fill out a questionnaire. Another assignment was to read East-West Street: Return to Lviv and fill out a questionnaire with open questions, which gave us empirical material for further analysis. In general, a change in students’ motivation and attitudes to the study and perception of international law was noticed. In particular, positive changes were noticed in students’ international legal awareness, which is a prerequisite for the departure from an “ideological” and “instrumental” image of international law.
      Changing the paradigm of teaching international law to lawyers in the post-Soviet space is the key to building democratic and tolerant societies based on common human values, and East-West Street: Return to Lviv should be very helpful in this process. Its publication in Central Asia is highly advisable.
      Philippe Sands’ book is a true discovery for any international lawyer who shares the same values as the author and the book’s main characters do. Every reader of East-West Street: Return to Lviv will discover international law’s new facets and meanings.

    • Bauer Y (2018) Not Just a Day of Memory. Accessed 4 June 2018.

    • Korotkyi T (2014) Formirovaniye tsennostnykh ustanovok pri podgotovke yuristov-mezhdunarodnikov: nekotoryye metodicheskiye priyemy (Formation of Values in the Training of International Lawyers: Some Methodical Techniques). Ukrainskyi chasopys mizhnarodnoho prava (Ukrainian Journal of International Law), 1-2: 142-146.

    • Korotkyi T and Hendel N (2016) «Vichna kryza» mizhnarodnoho prava (“Eternal crisis” of International Law). Vid teoriyi mizhnarodnoho prava do praktyky zakhystu prav lyudyny. Liber Amicorum do 60-richchya prof. V.V. Mitsika (From the Theory of International Law to the Practice of Protecting Human Rights. Liber Amicorum to the 60th Anniversary of Prof. V Mitsik). Feniks, Kyiv, Odesa, pp. 17-44.


    • 1 Bauer 2018.

    • 2 Korotkyi and Hendel 2016.

    • 3 Korotkyi 2014.

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