Special Issue is online: Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law

Our special issue of the Journal of the History of International Law on “Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law” is now online!

Everything is paywalled so if you can’t get access, get in touch and I’ll try to find a way get you a copy.

Here is the table of contents:

Raluca Grosescu & Ned Richardson-Little  Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law: An Introduction

Giovanni Mantilla The Protagonism of the USSR and Socialist States in the Revision of International Humanitarian Law

Sonja Dolinsek and Philippa Hetherington Socialist Internationalism and Decolonizing Moralities in the UN Anti-Trafficking Regime, 1947–1954

Raluca Grosescu State Socialist Endeavours for the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to International Crimes: Historical Roots and Current Implications

Ned Richardson-Little The Drug War in a Land Without Drugs: East Germany and the Socialist Embrace of International Narcotics Law

Tamás Hoffmann Crimes against the People – a Sui Generis Socialist International Crime?



Genocide in the Best Country in the World

Red Dress Project

Art installation inspired by Métis artist Jaime Black at Seaforth Peace Park, Vancouver. Edna Winti (3.October 2016)

The end of Canada would be nothing less than the end of a dream. The end of a country that has made us the envy of the world. Canada is not just any country. It is unique. It is the best country in the world.

-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, 1995

A few years ago, when the federal election was underway and “Canadian Values” suddenly became the cultural battlefield, it struck me how much this vision of the good Canada was strangely without a coherent history. There is no great unifying revolution or rebellion or political struggle that moves the story from a collection of resource-extraction colonies working for a global empire to a post-national multicultural paradise. Modern Canada sort of emerges from the ether as a fully formed entity, while the unfortunate parts of the Old Canada disappeared: the Chinese Exclusion Act, Duplessis Orphans, the policy of sending Jews fleeing Europe in the 1930s back to their certain deaths at the hands of the Nazis. All of that is another era somehow irrelevant to ours today. It’s what occurred in Canada, and committed by the Canadian state, but Canada did not do it. It is now history. It is past.

The problem is that the Old Canada never really went away, it just receded into the background for the majority. The Canadian government doesn’t issue small-pox blankets, actively try to starve Indigenous populations, or forcibly relocate them like during the 60s Scoop. It no longer takes children from parents to put them in institutions to forcibly wipe out Indigenous culture. That was all long ago in history. The last residential school closed in 1996. I was thirteen.

Robert Pickton started murdering women in 1983. The same year I was born. He was only arrested when I was 19 and sitting at university learning about how tribes were trying to rebrand to get more money out of the Canadian government. He was charged with killing 26 women, but he likely killed many more. Many of his victims were aboriginal women. One of the reasons he could get away with killing so many for so long was that police didn’t really care that Indigenous women went missing. When the news broke, it was sad, it was a tragedy.

What does it mean when you live in a state which cares so little for your welfare that a serial killer can operate for nearly two decades with impunity because he targets the right demographic? What does it mean if when he is caught, no one is really sure if he’s the only one because so many other Indigenous women are missing? At what point does neglect become intent?

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found that there are “serious reasons to believe that Canada’s past and current policies, omissions, and actions towards First Nations Peoples, Inuit and Métis amount to genocide, in breach of Canada’s international obligations, triggering its responsibility under international law.”

Of course, the debate in the media has mostly centered around the appropriateness of the word genocide. It was quickly declared to be unfair – not incorrect from a legal standpoint mind you – but impolite and uncivil, even hurtful. One more chapter in Natives playing word games for money (our money) and trying to make us feel bad for things we didn’t do. I didn’t hand out smallpox blankets or drag children from their families or put a bag of gas in the hand of an Innu child. How are we expected to have reconciliation with this sort of discourse?

Because it’s not our tragedy. These things don’t happen in Canada. They happen over there – far away where people are different. Where they don’t have Canadian Values. They don’t happen in the Best Country in the World.


The summer camp I went to in middle Ontario didn’t have any First Nations kids, but we spent plenty of time play acting as Indians. The image of Indigenous life was one of idyllic primitivism, coexistence with nature, rugged masculine skills. We competed against each other as members of opposing “tribes.” We wore loincloths made from beach towels and clotheslines. Some figured out ways to make mohawks with paint. In my last year as a camper, I was elected chief, which meant for the last competition it was my job to make a fire faster than the chief of the other tribe. We lost.

The founder of the camp was originally from Czechoslovakia and only after moving to Germany did I discover that my image of Indigenous Canadian life owed more to the dime novels of Karl May – a long-dead German writer who never came to North America – than they did to any kind of lived reality. May wrote about a German engineer, Old Shatterhand, who moved to the American West and became friends with Winnetou – a classic noble savage. His Indigenous people were the essence of how Germans romanticized the simplicity of the pre-modern North America and his work has been beloved for decades. It’s rare that an author has fans in both Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler. The most recent TV adaptation came out in 2016 with Winnetou played by an Albanian.


By the end of the 1990s, it was a matter of political faith in Canada that it was the best country in the world. Jean Chrétien made a point of mentioning it in basically every speech. This was no mere American jingoism, it was fact. The United Nations had said so. Well, not really, he was paraphrasing, but he believed it. It was a nice thing to think at the end of a decade during which Quebec had nearly separated and sliced the country in two. Our national nightmare was over. Order had been restored and with it came greatness. The low-key Canadian version that wasn’t too great (can’t be like the Yanks). The kind you of greatness conveyed by a Heritage Minute or winning at the World Juniors in hockey.

But through the 90s, there was always the other plotline moving along in the background, throwing up bouts of cognitive dissonance. I didn’t really understand the Oka Crisis when it happened, aside from knowing there were soldiers on one side and Indigenous people on the other. That was happening in Quebec (a strangely foreign part of the country where people were always agitated about all things political, not like civil Ontario). Like the conflict in Yugoslavia, it was something about race (or ethnicity?) or boundaries and there was something about a golf course. I was 7 and it was something I knew was important but beyond my realm of comprehension.

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Call for Papers: Africa and the Cold War III

I’m co-organizing a conference to be held in Erfurt in September 2020 on Africa and the Cold War. It is the third conference in a series organized by Uni Erfurt and the University of Mekelle and this time we are joined by the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University and the University of Western Bohemia in Pilsen.

In general “we will examine a series of themes centring on geopolitics, the creation and contestation of borders, the establishment of international norms, environmental questions, and the transnational flow of people, ideas, and illicit goods. We aim to discuss the overlapping alignments and realignments on the global, regional, and local level, taking into account the superpowers, other external states, and African governments, but also non-state actors including international organisations such as the UN and Organisation of African Unity (OAU), international NGOs, opposition groups, and members of the civil society.”

You can read more about the event here: Africa and the Cold War III

New Article: Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law: An Introduction

A sneak preview of the introduction to a collection on state socialism and international law that I wrote with Raluca Grosescu is now available online from the Journal of the History of International Law. The complete collection should be available in a few weeks [Is now online!]


This introductory essay provides an overview of the scholarship on state socialist engagements with international criminal and humanitarian law, arguing for a closer scrutiny of the socialist world’s role in shaping these fields of law. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the historiography on post-1945 international law-making has been generally dominated by a post-1989 sense of Western triumphalism over socialism, where the Soviet Union and its allies have been presented as obstructionists of liberal progress. A wave of neo-Marxist scholarship has more recently sought to recover socialist legal contributions to international law, without however fully addressing them in the context of Cold War political conflict and of gross human rights violations committed within the Socialist Bloc. In contrast, this collection provides a balanced understanding of the socialist engagements with international criminal and humanitarian law, looking at the realpolitik agendas of state socialist countries while acknowledging their progressive contributions to the post-war international legal order.

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Course Syllabus in Progress: 20th Century Global History: International Crime and International Law

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a new Masters-level course on the history of international crime and international law that I will be teaching next semester. Comments or feedback are welcome!

The course description is:

“This course will examine the parallel rise of global international criminal networks and international legal systems to combat transnational illicit activity in the 20th century. Themes would include human trafficking, forced labour, narcotics, and money laundering alongside the international reform activism and diplomatic initiatives to create global legal responses to these issues. The course would encompass global and transnational historical methodology and develop students historiographical understanding of the interplay between black markets, social movements, and international relations.”

Session 1: International Law and International Crime as History

Session 2: How International is International Law?

  • Martti Koskenniemi, “Histories of International law: Dealing with Eurocentrism,” Rechtsgeschichte (2011).

Session 3: Globalization and Illicit Markets

  • Gilman et. al., Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century (2011).

Session 4: Global Systems (1) – Prohibition Regimes

  • Ethan A. Nadelmann, “Global Prohibition Regimes: The Evolution of Norms in International Society,” International Organization 44, no. 4 (1990).

Session 5: Global Systems (2) – Neo-Medievalism

  • Jörg Friedrichs, “The Neomedieval Renaissance: Global Governance and International Law in the New Middle Ages,” in Governance and International Legal Theory, eds. Dekker and Werner.

Session 6: Organized Crime as History

  • Cyrille Fijnaut, “Searching for Organized Crime in History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime, ed. Letizia Paoli.
  • Edward Kleemans, “Criminal Organization and Transnational Crime,” in Histories of International Crime, ed. Gerben Bruinsma (2015).

Session 7: Migration (1) – White Slavery

  • Julia Laite, “Traffickers and Pimps in the Era of White Slavery,” Past and Present (2017)

 Session 8: Migration (2) – Human Trafficking

  • Marlou Schrover, “History of Slavery, Human Smuggling and Trafficking 1860–2010,” in Histories of International Crime, ed. Gerben Bruinsma (2015).

Session 9: Narcotics Trafficking (1) – Interwar Europe

  • Alan A. Block, “European Drug Traffic and Traffickers between the Wars: The Policy of Suppression and Its Consequences,” Journal of Social History 23, no. 2 (1989).

Session 10: Narcotics Trafficking (2) – Global South

  • Giovanni Molano Cruz, “A View from the South: The Global Creation of the War on Drugs,” Contexto Internacional 39, no. 3 (2017).

Session 10: Narcotics Trafficking (3) – Global Trade

  • Chantal Thomas, “Disciplining globalization: international law, illegal trade, and the case of narcotics,” Michigan Journal of International Law (2002).

Session 11: International Finance (1) – Counterfeiting

  • David Petrucelli, “Banknotes from the Underground: Counterfeiting and the International Order in Interwar Europe,” Journal of Contemporary History (2015).

Session 12: International Finance (2) – Offshore Money

  • Vanessa Ogle, “Archipelago Capitalism: Tax Havens, Offshore Money, and the State, 1950s–1970s,” The American Historical Review 122, no. 5 (2017).

Session 13: International Terrorism (1) – Assassinations

  • Ben Saul, “The Legal Response of the League of Nations to Terrorism,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 4, no. 1 (2006).

Session 14: International Terrorism (2) – Hijacking

  • Joseph Slaughter, “Hijacking Human Rights: Neoliberalism, the New Historiography, and the End of the Third World,” Human Rights Quarterly 40 (2018).

Global History of Human Rights since 1750 – An Annotated Syllabus

Since it’s human rights day, I thought I would share my syllabus for an undergrad seminar that I’m currently teaching at the University of Erfurt on the history of human rights. I’ve added some shot explanations of the logic behind the readings chosen for each week. Feel free to comment, critique or borrow liberally!

Session 1: Human Rights and History

General overview of the course matter (it’s the first day so it’s all pretty broad)

Session 2: Genealogies of Human Rights

  • Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, “Genealogies of Human Rights,” in Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, ed. SL Hoffmann Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 1–28.

This is a dense first reading, but it provides a good sense of the scope of the field and lets students see the variety of themes we will be dealing with over the length of the course. In Germany, where seminars put an emphasis on historiography, it’s a great primer.

Session 3: 18th Century Revolutions

  • Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, London: Norton, 2008. Chapter 3 pp. 113-145.

Hunt’s book provides an example of a teleological progress narrative of human rights beginning with the 18th century and the Enlightenment, and it introduces students to the history of emotions as a methodology.

Session 4: Unequal Revolutions (1)

  • Joan Wallach Scott. “French Feminists and the Rights of ‘Man’: Olympe de Gouges’s Declarations.” History Workshop 28 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 1-21.

I’ve got two lessons that are set up as a counter-point to progress narratives of the 18th century in order to center contemporary critics and to understand different forms of exclusion. Scott’s work delves into the exclusion of women from full citizenship and universalism and it also provides an introduction to gender theory. Continue reading

The Memorial Needles of Erfurt: It’s Hard to Please Everyone

Denknadel Plaque

In Germany and around the world, the last residence of persecuted Jews and other victims of Nazi terror are marked by small brass bricks called Stolpersteine – Stumbling Stones. There are more than 70,000 of these 10 by 10 cm stones installed in cobblestoned and paved sidewalks all made by hand by the artist Gunter Demnig who began the project back in 1992. It has now become common for many in Germany to mark the 9th of November – the anniversary of Kristallnacht – and the 27th of January – Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz – by polishing local Stolpersteine.

stolperstein ketchup

Stolpersteine are easy to clean using only expired ketchup and a toothbrush

While the Stolpersteine are ubiquitous across Germany, there are a few exceptions. The city of Munich banned the installation of new Stolpersteine in 2015 after claims that they were disrespectful of the dead, whose names were walked on by the living. In Erfurt, where I now work, the Stolpersteine are not banned, but instead the last known residence of Nazi victims is marked by a DenkNadel – a memorial needle. The civic group Erfurter GeDenken called for proposals in 2007 to create a uniquely Erfurt commemoration for the victims of Nazi terror and local artist Sophie Hollmann won the competition with her design: a silver cone topped by an orange ball as if it was a giant pushpin pressed into the street to mark the spot. The first set of DenkNadel were installed on November 9, 2009 with five more installed in the following years across the city.

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