Meta-engagement with international law, understated effects and engagers

Fourth of a series of four postings probing the international legal protection of the right to education within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international peace and security and armed conflict.

Images of violated spaces of learning — untouched since the moment of flight — have a visceral luminosity that belies the absence within. Latent there are the attacks, or acts of violence, of the recent past: the incursions of spatial and bodily inviolability, or as opined in postings one and two, violations of the duo dimensional international legal obligations to protect embodied learners, and their spaces of learning from attack. Lesser stated (if there is no rapid recovery response or alternative) is the multi-dimensional hurt and harm that lies beyond: the violations of the rights to, in and through education (see posting three). And the hurt and harm beneath: domestic embodiment of those rights may be partial and/or access to public affairs or remedies limited. Or in other words, the vulnerability shift from ordinary to extraordinary embodied vulnerability may precede, undergird and be exacerbated by the attack. The sole form of redress, then, may be international law.

Meta-engagement with international law 

Relatively the engagement doubles itself: extraordinary engagement invoked by the vulnerability shift (of which attacks on schools may form apart) is undergirded by ongoing ordinary processes of human rights treaty and Charter bodies and promotional engagement of the guardian of international humanitarian law. Discrete fractals of this engagement are renowned, if not infamous. If the violations of applicable international law are recurrent, the Security Council’s sui generis monitoring and reporting mechanism may be invoked, or if persistent, the Security Council may decide to adopt targeted and graduated measures against the listed violator. Equally the Office of Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court may, subject to its jurisdiction, act on its recent commitment ‘to pay particular attention to crimes against and affecting children’ (including those relating to attacks on schools in violation of article 8 (2) of its Statute) by either supporting genuine domestic investigations or opening an investigation itself. Undergirding both is the often unseen and unheard direct dialogue opened with applicable parties by the International Committee of the Red Cross and extraordinary mechanisms adopted by the Human Rights Council, for example, the Independent International Commissions of Inquiries.

Understated effects of meta-engagement 

Of course, each fractal of meta-engagement is maligned for ‘failing to protect’.  Indeed the violated spaces of learning  of the recent past generally, and the de-listing of Saudi Arabia-led coalition by the Secretary General from his most recent report as requested by the Security Council specifically, illume the failure. Yet the meta-engagement creates a series of often understated live connections with the law. And each live connection may be viewed as having concomitant understated protective effects. First, each fractal of engagement recurrently begins with a condemnation of the attack as a  violation of international law of which may be an international crime. In doing so, embodied vulnerability is connected with its international legal expression. And the law, itself, is reaffirmed and safeguarded. Second, in the multifarious spaces opened with holders of human rights and humanitarian obligations this connection is reinforced and that under appreciated dimension of domestic legal embodiment is ensured — the law is made known. Third, it may conduce practice of law if it fuses with principled commitments, political imperatives and/or a mix of both. Fourth, this conducement potentiality may be propelled, if it provides a protective shield for local engagement with the law, as noted within a 2015 probe of  ICC investigations.

Understated engagers with international  law

Of these live connections, the fourth is perhaps the most understated. Therein lies an intimate connection with the international juristic expression of  embodied vulnerability. And, not infrequently, a crystalline recall of the hurt and harm, of which may be seized by the right-holder or his/her representative; it may spark a tenacious resolve to conduce compliance with, and demand more from, international law. Or in other words it may resonate beyond its recall ‘in’ and ‘through’ law and practice.  And here is the crux: it may be propelled by ensuring  knowledge of the law: the right to know about human rights and humanitarian rules as a constituent element of children’s rights ‘in’ education. It dignifies, and in dignifying, it may have protective effects — including for conducing compliance with international law in relation to protecting schools as safe spaces of learnings.


Picture by an understated engaged, tweeted by @UNICEF_France.