Disrupting International Criminal Law’s Historical Linearity via War Poetry

Auteur Teodora SCHROTTER
Directeur /trice Marie-Laure Salles, Director, Geneva Graduate Institute
Co-directeur(s) /trice(s) Andrea Bianchi, Director of Studies
Résumé de la thèse

British war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, published a sonnet in 1927 after seeing the then newly raised

memorial in Ypres, Belgium (the Menin Gate). The memorial commemorates more than 50,000 soldiers

that fought in the First World War, whose bodies were never found. Sassoon sets in motion a bitter attack.


The poem commences:

Who will remember, passing through this Gate

The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?

(Sassoon, ‘On Passing the New Menin Gate, 1927)


Sassoon thus expressed his indignation at the Ypres Memorial - a ‘pile of peace-complacent stone’, as

he describes it, ‘too grandiose to commemorate the ordinary enlisted men’, ‘doomed, conscripted,

unvictorious’ (Sassoon, 1927). in Sassoon’s view, the memorial’s grandeur was ‘mere pomp, designed to

disguise the crime of the state’s prosecution for war’ (Palmer, 2014).

The poet’s vivid discontent with the memorial and the link to international crimes triggered the idea of

disrupting the grandeur of international criminal law’s historical trajectory, as traditionally depicted in the

specialised literature.

The 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trials are usually considered to have given birth to the field of justice that

is today known as International Criminal Law (ICL). These were then followed by the two ad-hoc

international tribunals, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International

Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in 1993 and in 1994, respectively. These events or moments culminated

with the establishment of the first permanent international criminal tribunal. Drawing on the precedents of

these previous temporarily established tribunals, The International Criminal Court (ICC), established in

1998, has jurisdiction over crimes of war, aggression, crimes against humanity and genocide. Indeed, from

a historical angle, the trajectory of ICL as a discipline can perhaps only be depicted with reference to these key constitutional moments (see, e.g., Olásolo’s description of the discipline, 2018), alongside the conflicts

coming before them. This trajectory of events was recounted with chronological linearity by Simpson

(Linear Law, 2014). These events have built up to a linearity of ICL’s historical narrative. I will describe

this dominant trajectory as ICL’s macro-lens.

As I aim to demonstrate in my doctoral studies, the sole focus on these institutional landmarks

(describing the macro-lens) obscures other stories that should be equally relevant for ICL, that is, the

individual accounts that would move the discipline closer to the ordinary people. The argument this

dissertation makes is that this maximised, macro lens, whilst perhaps a necessary summary of main events

in the discipline, neglects a micro type of analysis. The latter is focused on a chaotic, fragmentary, social

history, where the voices of ordinary people are heard in the story told about the field’s history. Moreover,

the question this dissertation examines is not what types of histories international criminal tribunals produce

when analysing atrocities. Instead, its focus is on the story that is being woven into the historiography of

ICL describing the discipline itself, and, crucially, what or who is left out in the process. The scope,

therefore, excludes the types of histories international criminal tribunals produce and the jurisprudential

practices of resolving international conflicts. However, I acknowledge from the outset that sometimes this

particular history of ICL overlaps with the history of the field itself and one builds upon the other, as will

be seen in the dissertation.

Taking these points into account, I seek to unsettle the mainstream historical linearity of the discipline

of ICL via literature, more specifically, war poetry. Methodologically, the research draws from twentieth

century war poetry - the work of soldier-poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg,

Yvan Goll and Blaise Cendrars, spanning the course of both world wars. It thus explores an understudied

link between ICL and literature. In this dissertation I seek to illustrate the advantages of construing a

narrative that unsettles the grand, institutionalised historical chain of events in ICL and as a result gets

closer to the ordinary people. The concept of ‘ordinary people’ refers to human beings not identifying with

legal/historical authorities or specialists, or legal/political/historical figures telling the story of ICL. In other

words, ordinary people conveys the legal/historical sphere’s ‘outsiders’ or, as an equivalent, the ordinary

public (Tobia, Slokum and Nourse, 2022).

Statut au début
Délai administratif de soutenance de thèse 1