International Justice in the News is a monthly e-newsletter about the people involved in the work of international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and publications and resources of interest. This issue is edited by Leigh Swigart, director of Programs in International Justice and Society.
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Spotlight on Language, Culture and Justice
"The Language(s) of Politics: Multilingual Policy-Making in the European Union"
This month’s feature is contributed by Nils Ringe (Brandeis class of 2001), Professor of Political Science and Director of the Jean Monnet EU Center of Excellence for Comparative Populism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He introduces his newly published book, The Language(s) of Politics: Multilingual Policy-Making in the European Union (University of Michigan Press 2022). The eBook version is available for free on the publisher’s website.
Multilingualism is ubiquitous inside the institutions of the European Union (EU), but it has not received much attention from political scientists to date, even though language provides the basis for all interaction, collaboration, contestation, deliberation, persuasion, negotiation, and transaction between political actors. How does reliance on shared non-native languages, or on the EU’s extensive translation and interpretation services, affect EU politics and policy-making? My recently published book, The Language(s) of Politics: Multilingual Policy-Making in the European Union, relies on in-depth interviews with almost 100 policy-makers and language service providers in the EU’s main institutions, paired with quantitative and linguistic data, to show that multilingualism shapes the very nature and flavor of EU politics and policy-making in ways both subtle and profound.
Most importantly, I find that multilingualism depoliticizes policy-making—meaning that it reduces its political nature and potential for conflict—by simplifying, standardizing, and neutralizing the EU’s “language(s) of politics.” One reason for this is that communication in a shared foreign language (most often in English) tends to be simple, utilitarian, and standardized, because non-native speakers are unable to express themselves with the same ease and proficiency as in their mother tongues; because they have to make themselves understood by those with lower language competence; and because they must accommodate translation into other languages. The need for effective communication between non-native speakers becomes pivotal in EU politics and elevates the practical, communicative aspect of language over the political or ideological. As a result, what EU actors say or write becomes less indicative of their national and political backgrounds, preferences, and priorities. These effects are heightened by the prevalence of “EU English” as the main shared language, which is more neutral, utilitarian, standardized, “decultured,” and de-ideologized than "standard" English.
Reliance on the EU’s language services also simplifies, standardizes, and neutralize languages. Simultaneous interpreters of spoken language face the difficult challenge of having to convey—accurately and on the spot—not only the substance of what is said, but also the speaker’s intention, meaning, culture, and personality. This already exceedingly difficult task is further complicated by often rapid speech and the wide range of highly technical issues covered. As a result, the output of simultaneous interpretation inevitably tends to be more functional, simple, and standardized than the input language. Translators of written texts, meanwhile, rely extensively on existing documents, shared terminology databases, and commonly accepted and widely used phrases, rather than being “creative” in their translations. This is for good reason: all language versions of EU law are equally authentic, or equally “legally valid,” which requires that EU legislation is drafted and translated so that it is interpreted and applied consistently across the member states. The safest way to ensure this equivalence is for translators to rely on terminology, phrases, and formulations that are anchored in existing documents, all of which results in a standardization of the target language in the translation process. Another important depoliticizing effect of the equal authenticity principle is that it allows little room for ambiguity in the source text, which constrains the ability of political actors to use purposely vague language when negotiating and drafting legislation, thus blunting a popular tool for forging political agreement.
Multilingualism affects the EU’s political culture by shaping perceptions of political differences, polarization of opinion, intensity of debate, and the resonance of arguments and evidence. Overall, it makes the process and quality of policy-making more deliberate and rationalized. It is, however, problematic that genuinely divisive political problems become (partly) depoliticized due to multilingualism. Moreover, a depoliticized language of politics is more likely to be perceived by the general public as bland, abstract, and distant, which undermines the quality of representation and weakens the link between the EU and its citizens.
People in the News
Photo Credit: Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
The United States has lost an iconic figure in the field of international diplomacy and foreign policy, Madeleine K. Albright. She was named US Ambassador to the United Nations by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and later became his Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position in the US. Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under President Obama, published an homage to Albright in The New York Times . “[S]he went toe-to-toe with the blood-soaked Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. She helped marshal American power and the NATO alliance to end the brutal war in Bosnia and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. She saw the chronically underestimated Russian president Vladimir Putin for what he is: a vicious autocrat intent on reclaiming Russia’s lost empire and a committed foe of democracy everywhere. In a prescient column in The Times published Feb. 23, she warned that an invasion of Ukraine would be ‘a historic error’ that would leave Russia ‘diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance.’ As happened so often, the man with the guns was wrong and Madeleine was right.”
Visit the Aspen Institute’s YouTube page to view a variety of videos featuring Secretary Albright.
Learn more about the situation of these migrant workers in a short film (6 minutes) entitled “The Invisibles.”
In a newly released landmark decision, a UN women’s rights committee found that the criminalization of consensual, same-sex intimacy between women is a human rights violation. The case was brought by Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND, the main LGBT organisation in Sri Lanka, with the support of the Human Dignity Trust. The decision sets a major legal precedent, holding that the criminalization of lesbian and bisexual women violates the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Read more details about the decision, and watch a short explanatory video about the decision, from Human Dignity Trust.
Can Vladimir Putin be considered a war criminal for his acts of aggression in Ukraine? So asserts US President Joe Biden, as reported widely in recent days. But this label might also be applied to all modern US presidents, claimed scientist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky in a 2003 interview, where he details the post-Nuremberg indictable war crimes of Biden’s predecessors. Be that as it may, The Guardian reminds us that “declaring someone a war criminal is not as simple as just saying the words. There are set definitions and processes for determining who is a war criminal and how they should be punished.”
As Putin’s reputation plummets in Western circles, that of his Ukrainian counterpart soars. The Daily Beast notes that the world is in need of a hero: “Just when you thought that the good guys only triumph in the movies, and that all that matters in the real world is raw power, a 5-foot-6-inch former comedian has emerged as a towering symbol of defiance in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s naked aggressions.” But others warn that building up President Volodymyr Zelensky into a superhero, or even worse a meme, as described by Wired , carries its own dangers. “[T]here is a difference between admiring a leader’s actions and adulating them like a K-pop star. Believing that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is an atrocity and that Zelensky is behaving courageously does not mean that it’s wise to apply the googly-eyed logic of fandom to his actions. In fact, it’s distinctly unwise. Treating Zelensky like a superhero—call it Marvelization—recasts a geopolitical conflict in which real people are really dying into entertainment, into content.”
The UN Human Rights Council has appointed Norwegian judge Erik Møse to lead an investigation into violations committed in Russia's Ukraine war. Møse has served as a judge on Norway's supreme court, and also as the judge in respect of Norway at the European Court of Human Rights. From 1999 to 2010, Møse was a trial judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, during which time he also held the position of vice-president and then president. International defense counsel Peter Robinson calls Møse “a top-notch choice” and “the hardest-working person in the whole [ICTR], with a strong sense of justice. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry into the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine was established in early March 2022.
Below: Erik Møse (top row, far right) at 2018 session of the Brandeis Institute for International Judges
Developments in International Justice
As Russia moves into its second month of warfare against Ukraine, that beleaguered state is fighting back not only with unexpected military force but also with lawfare, the strategic use of law against one’s adversaries. So explains a commentary in JusticeInfo.net by Julia Crawford and Thierry Cruvellier, who note that Ukraine’s “judicial offensive” is unprecedented in its speed and range, and includes initiating proceedings in international, regional and domestic jurisdictions. “Two international courts were immediately (re)activated – the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court — as well as a regional court, the European Court of Human Rights. National justice systems (Germany, Poland, the three Baltic States, Spain, Sweden, Slovakia, Switzerland, and others to follow) have also launched preliminary investigations, while the UN Human Rights Council has launched a commission of inquiry to gather evidence ‘for future legal proceedings’.”
In the meantime, the Russian Federation has formally withdrawn its 26-year long membership from the Council of Europe, a human rights and democracy organization made up of almost 50 states from western and eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. According to Amnesty International, “Russia’s preemptive decision to leave Europe’s principal guardian of human rights and the rule of law and denounce the European Convention on Human Rights is a tragedy for the victims of the Kremlin’s human rights abuses.” On 22 March 2022, the European Court of Human rights adopted a Resolution on the consequences of the cessation of membership of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe in light of Article 58 (“Denunciation) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Photo Credit: CNN
Indigenous and Métis groups from Canada have asked the Pope to apologize for what their populations experienced in residential schools run by the Catholic Church. According to Axios , “[n]early 150,000 Indigenous children are believed to have passed through about 150 residential schools, which the Catholic Church ran from the 19th century until the 1970s.” Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which completed its work in 2015, described the forced education of Indigenous children in boarding schools as “cultural genocide”, a term that has been subsequently backed up by legal experts working on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The recent discovery of Indigenous children’s remains near school sites has further reinforced this interpretation of the residential school policy. Demands for an apology from the Pope for the Church’s involvement in these schools have consistently met with resistance, however, and the delegation that met with him in March 2022 – which provided the Pope with in-person testimony from residential school survivors – may meet with the same response. CNN reports, “[l]ast year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops apologized for its role in the residential school system and expressed ‘profound remorse,’ but Indigenous leaders have long called for an apology from the Pope.” Watch a New York Times video of the Papal visit here
In other OAS news, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, along with the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, remind States in the Americas of their obligation to commemorate, preserve and publicize the historical truth concerning serious rights violations. The Commission and the Special Rapporteur call for the development of public policies on memory based on documentary and testimonial evidence and designed with the participation of victims and civil society. Read more in an OAS press release.
Publications and Resources of Interest
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been a flurry of commentaries about the role of international law and institutions in such a situation and their ability to resolve the conflict or mitigate its impacts.
Noëlle Quénivet, professor of the Bristol Law School of the University of the West of England, has assembled an online resource that provides links to publications by legal scholars touching on the conflict in Ukraine. Categories in this resource include: the relevance of international law; use of force and collective security; international criminal law; access to the Black Sea; refugee and IDP law; European Court/Convention of Human Rights; crime of aggression; and much more. Explore this very comprehensive resource.