Tuesday, December 20, 2016

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands

This is a great book and a worthy winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford non-fiction prize, in which Philippe Sands traces the development of the international law terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. But this is no dry legal treatise, largely due to his extensive research and highly engaging writing style, Philippe Sands shows how the lives of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and his maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz came to be intertwined in the now Ukrainian city of Lviv. While Lauterpacht and Lemkin studied there – with Lauterpacht going on to an academic career in Law at Cambridge, where he developed the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ in an attempt to protect the rights of individuals, Lemkin’s work was focused on the protection afforded to identifiable groups and races by calling for recognition of the crime of genocide. On the other hand, Leon Buchholz lived through the full horror of the Nazi invasion before escaping to Paris, where he was eventually joined by his infant daughter and later his wife. The crimes defined by Lauterpacht and Lemkin featured in the indictments used at the Nuremberg trials, where Lauterpacht’s ‘crimes against humanity’ gained wider support than Lemkin’s ‘genocide’. Although arguable that this has been reversed in the prosecution of post-WWII war crimes, Sands’ narrative has an edge-of-the-seat quality as legal argument and the preferring of charges show how the four prosecution authorities built their cases against the defendants. Hersch Lauterpacht looms large in the development of international law, but at Nuremberg his powerful intellect and professionalism are brought face-to-face with the accused – at a time when he did not yet know the fate of so many of his own family members. The last five years of his life were spent as the British judge to the International Court of Justice in the Hague; an appointment that was criticised by some in politics and the media on the dubious – and frankly worrying ground – that he was not ‘sufficiently British’. Sands’ work is a triumph of research and great writing, as a work of legal history it also stands as a salutary warning for today, perhaps best encapsulated in George Santayana’s telling observation that: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9780385350716 (print) ISBN 9780385350723 (e-book)

Monday, December 05, 2016

Royal prerogative - a lesson from the swinging 60s

Back in 1964 the BBC ended up in the Court of Appeal over a spat with the Inland Revenue, in which Auntie decided that it qualified to be treated in pretty much the same way as the rest of the establishment by using the Royal Prerogative (RP) to trump a tax claim. Now, the RP has a bit of a chequered history, mainly due to the activities of one Charles Stewart, or Charles I if you prefer (the only monarch to end their reign approx 10 inches shorter than at the start). The Beebs legal argument came to naught, largely thanks to the memorably pithy putdown from Lord Diplock, who said: it was "350 years and a civil war too late" to allow for a broadening of the RP. Strangely enough, the Daily Heil didn't come out against the noble Lord as an "enemy of the people" on that occasion (probably because he was putting the Beeb in its place?). But today we're faced with Paul Dacre and his band of scribblers busily casting themselves as the enemies of the Rule of Law, which is a far more dangerous place to be - and one that not even Art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Oh, irony of ironies: how wonderful if he ends up having to hide behind that to defend himself!) will stretch far enough to cover his twisting of fact and inflated, yet baseless, opinions.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Christmas is coming, the Bishop's talking out of his hat

A few years ago, I remember a vicar got into a spot of bother by revealing that Santa couldn't exist on the basis that no-one could travel fast enough to deliver all those presents in one night. Struck me at the time as a pretty lame way of getting some media exposure, but, sure enough, he got a panning from those who thought he was being a kill-joy. Now, Nick Baines - fast becoming the go-to bish for a press quote or three - has given an interview criticising 'intolerant liberalism': a phenomena he's come up with to explain why some Christians are 'afraid' to talk about their faith. I am a Christian and not afraid of talking. Any fear comes from being identified with dogmatic evangelicals and intolerant head-bangers who won't engage with anything outside of their very narrow views. While I agree that you can't - and shouldn't - take religion out of Christmas, one reason many don't want to talk about Christianity is the failure of Church leaders to address matters of faith in a way that people understand - trendy preachiness is far more harmful than intolerant liberals.