Dec 3, 2008

The Theater: Inter-Nation Justice & Politics

Selections from Tim Allen’s ‘Trial Justice’
3 Dec 2008

Allen asserts that the original concept for an international justice system dates back to post-World War II reconstruction. 1 In the wake of the Holocaust and the fall of the Nazi regime, there remained a question of what to do with many high-profile captured POWs. Usually, conditional surrender would negotiate the treatment of expected wartime prisoners and criminals, but in this unusual case of unconditional surrender by the enemy (in conjunction with the formation of the United Nations), it was decided that a series of international military justice trials would be formed, ultimately occurring at Nuremberg.

However the body set up to execute justice were wholly temporary in nature, and would later be followed by a succession of similar temporary bodies. Two examples include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Such temporary judicial bodies had a number of difficulties when it came time for them to carry out their mission. Frequently facilities were set up in the territories where crimes themselves had been committed. This meant that it was not at all uncommon for the setting to be wildly unsuited to the vast influx of journalists, officers, staff, observers, and others associated with such an undertaking.2 Also, to offset any effects toward permanence, the courts were limited to three-month contracts for its agents, making it difficult to acquire prestigious and more experienced law-professionals.3 All of this reflects the fact that courts were always pre-designed with the idea of disbursal following any ruling. Allen describes such bodies as “an ad hoc response” applied to issues as they arise.4

In 1998 the UN General Assembly met at Rome in order to rectify certain shortcomings in the other judicial bodies of the UN (The International Court of Justice, or ICJ, prime among them). The began to plan for a new body was to be permanent and designed to address war-crimes in particular.5 Under these auspices, The International Criminal Court was produced. Allen states that many at the time thought of the ICC as simply another example of millennium’s-end rosy-eyed optimism. Allen both affirms and contradicts this.

The ICC is unprecedented in that it the body itself is permanent and has a permanent prosecutor. Attending to some of the lessons learned at the ICTY and the ICTR, an apparatus capable of fielding the vastness of its operation was created to facilitate its operations. Unlike its aged fore-father, Nuremberg, it classified a wide range of activities as punishable war-crimes; rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, mutilation, hostage-taking, extra-judicial execution, forced relocation and more. Perhaps most importantly, according to Allen, it “re-established jurisdiction of international organizations to punish 'crimes against humanity' (whether or not there was an international conflict)”.

On the other hand the ICC has many limitations, some intentional and some arbitrary. The prosecutor cannot pursue an investigation without consent from a chamber of pre-trial judges. Once the prosecutor has that consent, the ICC relies on the support of local governments to actually conduct investigations and make arrests, a fact in reality which often circumvents the process altogether. When cases are able to advance beyond this stage, Allen points out that some candidates wait more than a year for their actual trial.

Prime among the examples of the ICC’s inefficacy, and most disturbing to me, is its relationship with the United States. According to Allen’s account, there were three basic positions regarding the ICC at the Rome conference in 1998. The United States, China, and France were in support of an ICC that required the Security Council’s vote to activate it, assuring that it would never act against their own interests. A second group, including Libya, Iran and Iraq, opposed any kind of ICC altogether. The final and largest group, backed most notably by Canada, Germany, and later the UK, wanted a stronger court. The court in their view should have the ability to prosecute independently of states and unhindered by the Security Council.6

The ultimate passage of the ICC has been sidestepped by the US. The United States congress never ratified the bill, making it non-binding, and the international community commonly feels that, “No attempt has been made to disguise the premise that international laws are important to regulate the actions of the rest of the world, but [rather] that they do not apply to the USA."7

In spite of this Allen, is positive about the court’s departure from the past, and, in the long run, he sees the court as ultimately incidental to local methods of resolution and justice. He points out that roles philosophically fulfilled by such a body, and indeed systems of trial justice in general, (just punishment, mitigation of calls for revenge, and reconciliation/ forgiveness) are in many cases still actualized by local practices such as the Ugandan mato oput.8,9

Allen highlights how, as a result of a group called the LRA (which violently marauded parts of Uganda), there was an increase in the need to reintegrate individuals. To this effect, Allen says that mato oput, an old tradition, was both re-imagined and increased in frequency dramatically.10

To this the anthropologist in me says, ‘whatever works’, and Allen admits that it often (though not exclusively) does.

1 Allen 16
2 Allen 19
3 Ibid
4 Allen 13
5 The ICJ “was mandated to deal with any question of international law” (Allen 7), and frequently attended to legal interpretations rather than criminal prosecutions.
6 Allen 17
7 Allen 22
8 Allen 24
9 Mato oput being an Ugandan tradition that involves eating a concoction sometimes including raw eggs, twigs and parts of livestock. (Allen 130)
10 Sverker Finnstrom attended four mato oput ceremonies performed by the elders in [his fieldwork, 1997-2002]. But they now seem to occur much more frequently. For example, one research group claims to have documented twenty six... between 2000 and 2005 [in one district alone]. (Allen 163)

Nov 30, 2008

Poll Test

May 3, 2008


Why do I give a damn? Others looking in on me might well ask.

I’ve wondered a bit myself recently, though not in the aggravated way I once did, which is just one more sign that I am moving forward. Still, what lingers? And why do I ever think back on it?

It’s no longer just nostalgia, for I daily accept its passing and do not even really want her back. A new feeling I'm coming to understand, I want to release her—

I want to forgive her, as time goes on it only gets clearer. I'm in need signs of forgiveness. Sometimes I think about all the pain I’ve put into the world, and I can barely forgive myself. And when I fail to forgive someone, I’m really failing to forgive myself.

I want to continue moving forward, leaving pain in the past where it belongs, and I struggle doing that if I can’t forgive myself. I’m seeking forgiveness so that I can learn to forgive others, and myself is just one more other I need to learn to forgive.

Feb 23, 2008

Missing Things — So Damn Hard...

I do not miss people. I do not miss things. I don’t miss anger, arguing, or spite.

I don’t care for regrets much, and I certainly don’t care for dishonesty.

But I do miss smiles, shared joy, and wisdom. Regrets sometimes bury me alive, and anger has more than once poured into my mind, exploded out of my heart, so destructive...

As I struggle to let it all go, I often realize what I’m missing most are just ideas, sometimes false, and really the struggle is letting the ideas go...

I do not miss flesh. Or bones.

And from those precious few, what I actually miss is being effected.

Jan 22, 2008

Jagged Angles

Why do I prefer jagged angles?

Everyone has seen a rug with a curly flowered pattern, but usually I find that I prefer something both a little more and less pronounced. What do I mean by this? When something is complex enough, no part of it sticks out and yet it's wildly distracting in our field of view.

I think the mind understands jagged angles better – we're very familiar with a right angle, and we sure ought to be; we've surrounded ourselves with them. On the other hand every time we see a curve, at least in my mind, I can feel myself process it. Is it a curve that would fit in with a right angle? Is it steep or shallow? The complexity multiplies if the curve can reverse itself.

To be fair there are a lot of designs I've seen that use curves that are very attractive. What makes these designs successful in my mind is the limited style of the curves. Make them simple enough and they go nearly unnoticed at first glance, leaving no room for the brain to spend time processing them, leaving them as a sort of design accent and less of a primary design focus.

At the end of the day I think people are very complicated. From moment to moment and day to day we are very different individuals depending on situations, individuals surrounding us and the experiences we've had. With all that complexity in the people surrounding us (which is very important to our lives), I don't see the need for complicated furniture. Appreciate it of course, and how it serves you, but let slipping into the background gracefully be part of its service.

Like many things I suspect there is a healthy balance between the two, such as a couch with an angular pattern imprinted on it with curved arms and top for actual physical features.

Still, given one to emphasize, I know where my loyalties lie.

Jan 13, 2008

Portrayal Betrayal

It is as hard to see one's self as to look backwards without turning around. - Thoreau

There’s a certain irony to the way we portray ourselves.

I mean this in a few contexts. Of course, people are constantly misrepresenting themselves in person— if not by complete inaccuracy than at least by revealing only a very partial image of their selves.

And people are quite practiced at this. After all, it’s almost a constant activity we partake in from a very early age.

But if you really want to add a weird quality to it, make things written. As practiced as we may be at showing only very intentional aspects of ourselves, nothing adds to deception like adding the time and opportunity to premeditate.

If you want to skew things even more, you should constrain or truncate it by giving people tiny fields of knowledge to fill out, effectively placing emphasis on some things and devaluing others.

Favorite book? – Important. Favorite video game: Not.

Music that changed your life: important... Teacher who changed your life? Absent.

Relationship status? – Important. Relationship status with parents... not.

On some level we all know it’s constrained and vitally flawed, but it seems like we’re willing to let it go in favor of ... something.


It wouldn’t bother me if it was recognized that way. Still, the older I get, the more it seems to me like we’re willing to accept flawed pictures as mostly whole.

Maybe if we accepted its incompleteness, the picture would actually be more whole. And not just a—


Jan 9, 2008

Many Drivers, Many Exits

We all do it at some point, but the less the better. Any highway is dangerous. Bodies strapped to metal and plastic and explosives and a canon that drives your wheels. If labeled, those pedals wouldn’t read accelerate or break, they’d read, “Look out ahead” and “Hit me to avoid the guy about to merge into your rear bumper.”

Even the wheel would read, “Use carefully, lest you be rolled onto your head and smashed to bits like a bug on on your grill.”

On any given highway, there are an infinite number of exits. They’re scattered all over for you to find…

Even I have done it, though I hope much less so than others, but I still hate it when people don’t pay attention on highways.

Don’t you get it?—

Death, motherfucker: It’s just around the corner.

Jan 4, 2008

A Loving Simplicity

Everyone has natural talents. We argue about their various values. What is the value in writing, for instance? Or just how priceless is that clearest communicator in your family or office?

We often equate work and talent. “What do you do?” is a question you might hear often, and you know immediately they mean for a job. There are so many things you do, but when people ask what you do, they mean your work, as though it is somehow essential to your existence.

The problem is the thing we do is often not the thing we love. I detail cars and many people I know wait tables or shuffle office papers. When I detail a car I’m part of a larger process designed to disguise the wear on the vehicle, those who wait tables are providing a simple service to others, and office work might be even more mundane. I find that I can almost always take pride in a job well-done, but just because I can make it a job well-done doesn’t mean I will love performing the activity. Not even the pride in the result can make up for the lack of love in the work itself.

But the problem is not simply that these are not glorious occupations. I find that the things we love are often simple pleasures. People think of art as very complicated, and a natural talent to boot. But in its simplest form it is only putting a brush to canvas, pencil to paper, or hand to clay. And anyone can do these things if they love them.

In this world we call modern, things are admittedly on overdrive. For most people what we do is not what we love, and I was surprised to find this morning that I love chopping wood. What is the value to me of having the wood? Very low. I could probably do some other work and in the same amount of time earn enough money to buy more than that amount of wood. But value is sometimes not a measure of dollars.

On a warm day with a peaceful breeze, the sound and simple beauty of an axe meeting wood can be poetry.

[16 August 2007]