Necessary Decisions

In 2008, the Nigerian police twice arrested twenty-six-year-old Ugochukwu Chinoso Nwanebu. A peaceful activist, Nwanebu was, like other Igbo secessionists, profiled and persecuted by Nigerian police via systematic torture and assassination. The first time that Nwanebu was arrested, he was tortured. The second time, he was tortured and released; however, he was released only so that police could hunt and kill him for sport. Nwanebu managed to escape and find his way to a relative’s home. Knowing that the police would find him if he Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Logic of Analogy: Slavery and the Contemporary Refugee

In literary studies, questions of race, power, and terror raised by the mention of the Zong atrocity have long been familiar. While the facts of the case are well known—in 1781, a captain of a British slave ship chose to throw 133 slaves overboard so that he could claim them as insurance losses—the afterlife of Zong far exceeds its eighteenth-century abolitionist frame of moral outrage, legal maneuver, and humanitarian activism. Following in and amplifying J. M. W. Turner’s footsteps (whose 1840 painting Slave Ship galvanized Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Innocents: Reading Refugees in National Culture and Diasporic Literatures

Early in Lê Thi Diem Thúy’s novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For, Lê’s first-person six-year-old narrator finds herself in communion with the glass animals locked in a display case in the office of the Russell family, which sponsors her, her father, and four other men—”the uncles”—who accompanied them as they fled from Vietnam to the United States. She tells the animals about her journey on the boat and rescue at sea by the U.S. Navy, memories of her mother from whom she and Continue reading → Continue reading →

Anglophone Novels from the Tibetan Diaspora: Negotiations of Empire, Nation, and Culture

The preface of the Charter of the Tibetans-in-Exile (1991) states the goals of the government as follows: Efforts shall be made to transform a future Tibet into a Federal Democratic Self-Governing Republic and a zone of peace throughout her three regions. Whereas in particular, efforts shall be made in promoting the achievement of Tibet’s common goal as well as to strengthen the solidarity of Tibetans, both within and outside of Tibet, and to firmly establish a democratic system suitable to the temporary ideals of the Continue reading → Continue reading →

Haitian Refugees and the Guantánamo Public Memory Project: Remembering Haitian Refugees

The United States military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, came under scrutiny in the early 1990s when it served as the site of detention for Haitian and Cuban refugees brought there following their interdiction at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. Typically, after a few months at Guantánamo, Cuban refugees were taken to the U.S. mainland, where they received political asylum because they were seen as refugees fleeing a communist nation. Haitian refugees often languished much longer at Guantánamo, and few were granted asylum in Continue reading → Continue reading →

War and the Historical Sociology of Human Rights: Violent Entanglements

  The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights Christopher N. J. Roberts Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014 René Cassin and Human Rights: From the Great War to the Universal Declaration Jay Winter and Antoine Prost Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013 Rights and violence are so intertwined that their relationship can appear both self-evident and utterly obscure. Consider the work that rights do in the first historical sociology of the United States: they push democratic citizens to Continue reading → Continue reading →

Letter from Lviv: On place and the history of international law

My trip to Lviv/Lwów/Lemberg did not begin smoothly. I flew overnight from New York to Frankfurt, and from there to Vienna; boarding the third and last flight from Vienna to Lviv on Thursday afternoon, the computer beeped at my boarding pass. “Australians need a visa.” “I know; we buy it at the airport.” Not at Lviv airport, it turns out. Kiev? Sure. Or Odessa – no problem. But not Lviv. The security official remained unmoved by the fact that I had to give a conference Continue reading →

The Shifting Meaning of War and Peace

This post is an advance version of a review essay that will appear in Humanity volume 10. It will be posted in five parts: one each day this week. This is part 5. The interwar period was a time of heightened confusion about the boundary between war and peace. The meaning of both terms became thoroughly destabilized by political events. In this context the legal effort to end war through outlawry had unexpected and counterproductive effects.[1] For by removing war from the realm of acceptable Continue reading →

Trade, Statehood, and Conquest

This post is an advance version of a review essay that will appear in Humanity volume 10. It will be posted in five parts: one each day this week. This is part 4. Hathaway and Shapiro claim that “the outlawry of war in 1928—and the broader legal transformation that it unleashed—made it safer to trade” (344). By introducing a safeguard against conquest, Kellogg-Briand released the energies of free trade and colonial nationalism, resulting in a globalized world economy and a quadrupling of the number of Continue reading →

Neutrality, Sanctions, and Outcasting

This post is an advance version of a review essay that will appear in Humanity volume 10. It will be posted in five parts: one each day this week. This is part 3. The Internationalists compellingly shows how the multi-layered nature of Old World Order made it difficult to undo all its principles at once. One of these principles was neutrality. Hathaway and Shapiro are not fans of it. They regard it as an “excuse” not to take action against aggressors and as a way Continue reading →