treaties

In recognition of today’s entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with 81 signatories and 51 states parties, I’m republishing the essay below, which I posted at my Gloss site on August 10, 2020.

 

 

 

“There, in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.”

I spent yesterday reading, for perhaps the 3d time in my life, “Hiroshima,” the 30,000-word epic published in an August 1946 New Yorker. This time around, it’s the 19-word sentence quoted above that stuck in my mind.

Among this article’s many remarkable facets is the absence of overt commentary. It narrates the first atomic bombing not in the voice of author John Hersey, by then a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist who’d covered World War II alongside US troops. Instead, Hiroshima is revealed through the eyes of 6 unknowns:

  • Miss Sasaki, a young clerk caught in the rubble at the tin factory where she works;
  • 2 physicians, Dr. Sasaki (no relation), a Red Cross Hospital surgeon who treats the clerk’s mangled leg, and “hedonistic” Dr. Fujii, who runs his own private hospital;
  • Mrs. Nakamura, whose husband, a tailor, had enlisted in the Army and died at Singapore 3 years earlier; and
  • 2 clerics, an Emory-trained Methodist, Reverend Tanimoto, and a Jesuit priest, Father Kleinsorge.

Each was stunned by the bomb’s “Noiseless Flash” at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, and over the next year, and each managed to eke out a kind of survival.

The article reads like a matter-of-fact recitation of the experiences of these 6. Yet the facts, as marshalled, leave little doubt of Hersey’s point of view: 12 months on, the clerk is “a cripple”; one doctor is “not capable of the work he once could do” and the other has “no prospects of rebuilding.” The pastor has lost his both his church and “his exceptional vitality,” while the misnamed priest (in German, Kleinsorge = “little worry”) is “back in the hospital.” And these are “among the luckiest in Hiroshima.”

The choice of voices is itself a commentary. These are ordinary people. Two are reading newspapers when the bomb drops. They differ from Hersey’s own readers only because all are citizens of Axis countries, of vanquished Japan and Germany. “Hiroshima” humanizes them, and so upends the Allies’ postwar mindset.

Hersey reports that on the 1st anniversary of the bombing, many, though not all, in Hiroshima “feel a hatred for Americans which nothing could possibly erase.” Hypocrisy surfaces, too, for US-led proceedings before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East already were well under way:

“I see,” Dr. Sasaki once said, “that they are holding a trial for war criminals in Tokyo just now. I think they ought to try the men who decided to use the bomb and they should hang them all.”

Within that sentence, of course, lies a central conundrum of international criminal law – a sin of omission that dogs international criminal justice to this day.

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary not of Hiroshima, but rather the atomic bombing 2 days later of Nagasaki. Together these conflagrations forced the surrender to Japan and ended a war begun with another bombing, that of Pearl Harbor, on a date that Truman’s predecessor declared would “live in infamy.”

In victory, Allies worked to mute misgivings about their own bombing raids – carpet bombing of cities in Europe and Asia, as well as the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear moment. But misgivings existed, as my own research on participants at the Nuremberg trials has revealed. Sometimes they surfaced in commentaries and in longer writings by Hersey and others. Yet questioning has remained sporadic, and much more needs to be done.

On this anniversary, what I find myself pondering the sentence quoted at top: “There, in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.” At a site where workers produced (no doubt for war matériel) a metal that humans first had forged in the Bronze Age, the centuries-old storehouse of human knowledge revealed itself quite literally to be a weapon of the Nuclear Era.

Would that so much human effort were applied to the ends of peace.

On this, the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations has just published “Child Rights, Conflict, and International Criminal Justice,” my 1st contribution to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. (See also here.)

The 41-minute lecture’s available in video (here) and audio formats (SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts).

After noting the particular harms that children endure in armed conflict and similar violence, the 8 November 2019 lecture proceeds to trace the developments in child rights that led to adoption, on 20 November 1989, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Next, it describes parallel developments in two other key legal fields, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. After looking at relevant provisions of the Child Rights Convention and other instruments – in particular, the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – the lecture concludes by evaluating efforts to ensure the rights of the child by preventing and punishing international crimes against and affecting children.

Also provided is a list of related materials on which the lecture relies.

My thanks to all at the Codification Division of the UN Office of Legal Affairs for the honor of commemorating the treaty, about which my lecture observed:

“As for the 1989 Child Rights Convention itself – today it has 196 parties, including the Holy See, the State of Palestine, and every UN member state except the United States of America. Because of its nearly universal acceptance, as well as its comprehensive contents, the Convention has served for the last thirty years as the pre-eminent global charter on child rights and protection.”


LOS ANGELES – On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am honored to be spending this month at the USC Shoah Foundation, reviewing testimonies of persons who did their part to set right one of history’s terrible wrongs.

Seventy-three years ago today, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp located about 45 miles west of Kraków, Poland. Liberations of other camps by other Allied forces soon followed; among them, the U.S. liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, and the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen 4 days later.

Sixty years later, a 2005 U.N. General Assembly resolution set this date aside for commemoration of World War II atrocities (image credit); to quote the resolution, of

“… the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities …”

The resolution further:

  • honored “the courage and dedication shown by the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps”;
  • rejected “any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event”;
  • envisaged the Holocaust as “a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”;
  • denounced “all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur”; and
  • encouraged initiatives designed to “inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.”

Among the many such initiatives are memorial centers and foundations throughout the world – 2 of which have helped me in my own research into the roles that women played during postwar international criminal trials at Nuremberg.

In December, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, located in Glen Cove, New York, opened its archives to me. Special thanks to Helen  Turner, archivist and Director of Youth Education, for her assistance.

This month, as the inaugural Breslauer, Rutman and Anderson Research Fellow, I am in residence at the University of Southern California, examining documents in USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive. It has been a fruitful and moving scholarly experience, and I look forward to sharing my research at a public lecture on campus at 4 p.m. this Tuesday, Jan. 30, video available here (as I was honored to do last week at UCLA Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights; video here). Special thanks to all at the foundation’s Center for Advanced Research – Wolf Gruner, Martha Stroud, Badema Pitic, Isabella Evalynn Lloyd-Damnjanovic, and Marika Stanford-Moore – and to the donors who endowed the research fellowship. (Fellowship info here.)

As reflected in the 2005 General Assembly resolution, the work of such institutions helps to entrench – and to prevent backsliding from – states’ promises to ensure and respect human rights and dignity norms, set out in instruments like the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To this list I would add the many documents establishing international criminal fora to prosecute persons charge with violating such norms – from  the Nuremberg-era tribunals through to today’s International Criminal Court.