Spotlight Archive

Below is an archive of items from the Spotlight on Language, Culture and Justice feature of International Justice in the News, a monthly newsletter of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, as well as other pertinent commentaries.


Aboriginal Interpreting Western Australia (AIWA) recently worked with the Western Australia Police Force to develop an app which could signal a new direction in communication with Aboriginal people who are arrested. The app, which police have on their phones, delivers information about rights in custody in WA Aboriginal languages and in ‘plain English'.

What does it mean, practically and subjectively, to work as an interpreter “in the field”? How does interpretation in the field differ as a space of interpretation from interpretation “in the booth” that takes place in the halls of the UN General Assembly? Both forms of interpretation are bound up with questions of justice, global governance, and international law, but practical features of the work differ dramatically.

Language Rights in a Changing China is the culmination of eight years of research, including fieldwork in four provinces across the People’s Republic of China. The book examines the constitutional minority language rights that China has had since the mid 20th century, and what they mean, both legally and socially, today.

The life history interview, a type of oral history that covers the events of an individual’s life experiences, is a useful methodological tool for social scientists and historians.

The large-scale Black Lives Matter protests in the middle of 2020 made it impossible to look away from structural biases and inequalities around the world.

Language influences our lives in many ways. For some this influence may be subtle, but in a courtroom the ability to understand and be understood becomes the determining factor in one’s future.

The standard narrative about the history of international war law is that it has had a civilizing effect on the violent impulses of nation states. But this “standard Western-European-centric view” is so contested that some suggest international war law verges on being a protection racket.

International courts and tribunals hold the power to decide on questions involving sovereignty over territory, grave human rights violations, international crimes, or millions of euros' worth of economic interests. Judges and arbitrators are the "faces" and arguably the drivers of international adjudication — yet certain groups tend to be overrepresented on international benches, while others remain underrepresented.


Thanks to the 120 persons who recently participated in "Rights, Rules and Rhetoric: Exploring Language for and about Migrants in Australia, Europe and North America." This was the first public program sponsored by Brandeis University's Language, Culture and Justice Hub, with conveners hailing from the three continents.

We are pleased to present our new edited volume Intersections of Law and Culture at the International Criminal Court, published in October by Edward Elgar Press. This book takes as a premise that notions of culture affect the legal foundations, daily functioning, and perceived legitimacy of the International Criminal Court.

The Language, Culture and Justice Hub invites you to participate in an asynchronous and written online "learning exchange" exploring diverse language challenges facing migrants as they navigate legal and other critical contexts, work in academic and professional settings, and respond to rhetoric that (mis)(re)presents them.

Located in Montreal, one of the world's most bilingual cities, McGill University not only has a long tradition of building bridges between Canada's two official languages of English and French, but its law programs also proudly embrace the coexistence of the two legal systems — common and civil law — practised within the country.

The research project VIOSIMTRAD is carried out by researchers of the Research Group TRADIC (Translation, Ideology, Culture) at the University of Salamanca, Spain, along with collaborators affiliated with other institutions. The project goes beyond the assumption that language functions as a powerful tool used in the construction of reality and identities, asserting that it also reflects — and very often perpetuates — power relations between diverse social groups and varied identities which, though unequal and inequitable, are generally perceived as natural.

The world of international criminal justice was recently rocked by the arrest of longtime fugitive-from-justice Félicien Kabuga, charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kabuga was a prominent Rwandan businessman whose financial contributions bankrolled the genocide.

The conference brought together a broad range of researchers from across the globe, interested in a variety of language-related issues in diverse legal contexts. However, despite this diversity, a clear issue emerged amongst the many presentations: the importance of tackling problematic beliefs about language in a format that is accessible and perceived as legitimate by those working in legal settings.

A "moral and collective reparation" project associated with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia — also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal — offers an example of the potency of expressive culture in truth-telling. It also demonstrates how innovation within time-honored tradition might nurture empathy for survivors of mass violence and contribute to the expansion and preservation of the historical record, while also encouraging discussion and strategizing about ways to address contemporary (in this case, gender-based) violence.

I am a part of an international group of NGO leaders, activists, scholars, artists and former heads of minority rights divisions of major multilateral institutions. We represent different cultures and countries across the world, mostly from Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Our goal is to articulate the necessary language to capture the nature of enduring sociocultural systems of oppression, marginalization and exclusion, and to conceptualize the human rights platforms that can end the practices informing those systems.

Recognising migrants as political actors is one important way to work against the representation of migrants as voiceless victims. Whereas institutional asylum frameworks create a circumscribed space for migrants' voices, in which "asylum seekers are charged with narrating themselves in a condition of sanctuary" (Farrier 2012: 1), migrants have entered and created various other platforms to share their stories and demands.


A recent talk by University of Toronto scholar Vijay Ramjattan delves into the field of raciolinguistics, which examines how language is used to construct race and how ideas of race influence language and language use, especially in relation to racialized subjects. 

What kinds of misunderstandings emerge in the context of criminal trials dealing with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide? What are the impacts of different linguistic and cultural practices on both the proceedings and the ways in which these proceedings are understood?

The Trump administration recently decided that providing in-court interpretation during initial-phase immigration proceedings represents an unnecessary expense in an already bogged-down system.