Read On! New anthology, “Human Rights and Children”

Honored to be a contributor to Human Rights and Children, an anthology of works in the field edited by another IntLawGrrls contributor, Hofstra Law Professor Barbara Stark.

The collection’s just been issued by Edward Elgar Publishing, which writes:

“This volume provides a comprehensive overview of children’s human rights, collecting the works of leading authorities as well as new scholars grappling with emerging ideas of ‘children’ and ‘rights.’ Beginning with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, this book explores the theory, doctrine, and implementation of the legal frameworks addressing child labor, child soldiers, and child trafficking, as well as children’s socio-economic rights, including their rights to education.”

My own contribution is listed in this compendium as: “Diane Marie Amann (2013), ‘A Review of Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy in Mark A. Drumbl, Oxford University Press’, American Journal of International Law…” On my SSRN page, I describe this book review as follows:

“This essay reviews ‘Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy’ (2012), in which author Mark Drumbl examines legal doctrine, global activism, and social science research respecting underaged combatants.”

Additional contributors to this collection who have also contributed to IntLawGrrls include, besides Professor Stark and me, Mark A. Drumbl and Nienke Grossman. The balance of contributors are as follows: Philip Alston, Jo Becker, Maria Bouverne-De Bie, Claire Breen, Geert Cappelaere, Cynthia Price Cohen, Katherine Covell, Mac Darrow, Martha F. Davis, Michael J. Dennis, Janelle M. Diller, Sara A. Dillon,  Martin Guggenheim, Stuart N. Hart, Kamran Hashemi, R. Brian Howe, David A. Levy, Janet McKnight, Tendai Charity Nhenga-Chakarisa, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Roslyn Powell, Alison Dundes Renteln, Marilia Sardenberg, William A. Schabas, David M. Smolin, Murray A. Straus, Laura Thetaz-Bergman, John Tobin, Jonathan Todres, Geraldine Van Bueren, Wouter Vandenhole, Eugeen Verhellen, and Barbara Bennett Woodhouse.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann blog)

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Women’s leadership in academia focus of Georgia Law event January 5, AALS annual meeting

Law professors, librarians, and clinicians “interested in advancing women into leadership positions within the academy” are invited to take part in a special University of Georgia School of Law reception at next week’s annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools.

As described in the AALS program, the event will be held January 5, 2018 from 5:30-7:00 pm at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Level 4, America’s Cup CD, San Diego, California.

University of Georgia Provost Pamela Whitten (left) will give a presentation at the reception, which will also feature breakout discussions led by Kristi L. Bowman (right), Vice Dean for Academic Affairs at Michigan State University College of Law, and Usha R. Rodrigues (below right), Associate Dean for Faculty Development at the University of Georgia School of Law.

o-sponsoring are the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education and the AALS Section Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research.

Kudos to my colleague Usha, the principal organizer of this event. It’s a followup to the Roundtable Discussion on Women’s Leadership in Legal Academia that Georgia Law hosted at last year’s AALS one of many Georgia Women in Law Lead (Georgia WILL) events last academic year. As Usha explains in her invitation:

“This event will kick off programming for a new Women in Academic Leadership Initiative. In conjunction with the law schools of Brigham Young University, Michigan State University, UCLA, University of Tennessee, University of Virginia, and Yale University, we are spearheading a program that will feature regional leadership conferences aimed at preparing women in legal education for leadership opportunities and advancement.

“This initiative is in response to valuable feedback from the Roundtable Discussion on Women’s Leadership in Legal Academia we held during last year’s AALS Annual Meeting. Our colleagues expressed a need for a sustained project to foster women’s leadership. Based on that feedback, we have been developing a conference to address needs such as negotiation skills, conflict management, and effective communication. We are also creating panels to discuss various leadership roles and the competitive search process. The inaugural conference, to be held at the University of Georgia on July 19-20, 2018 …”

Details here and here.

Important essays on myriad international law subfields in our new OUP book, “Arcs of Global Justice: Essays in Honour of William A. Schabas”

LONDON – Building on yesterday’s post about the magical London conference launching Arcs of Global Justice: Essays in Honour of William A. Schabas (Margaret M. deGuzman and Diane Marie Amann eds.), today’s post profiles the book itself, which, thanks to excellent assistance from John Louth, Blake Ratcliff, and their staff, has just been published by Oxford University Press. (The hardback may be ordered via OUP or Amazon, and the book’s also available on Kindle.)

Very pleased to have coedited this volume with my colleague Meg, another longtime IntLawGrrls contributr. The concept, in our words:

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Testing the optimism of that claim were the many fits and starts in the struggle for human rights that King helped to catalyze. The same is true of other events in the last half-century, from resistance to apartheid and genocide to equal and fair treatment in domestic criminal justice systems, to the formation of entities to prevent atrocities and to bring their perpetrators to justice. Within this display of myriad arcs may be found the many persons who helped shape this half-century of global justice-and prominent among them is William A. Schabas. His panoramic scholarship includes dozens of books and hundreds of articles, and he also has served as an influential policymaker, advocate, and mentor.”

“This work honours William A. Schabas and his career with essays by luminary scholars and jurists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The essays examine contemporary, historical, cultural, and theoretical aspects of the many arcs of global justice with which Professor Schabas has engaged, in fields including public international law, human rights, transitional justice, international criminal law, and capital punishment.

In all, the book includes 29 contributions by 35 academics, advocates, and jurists, as detailed in the table of contents below (the several who also have contributed to IntLawGrrls are marked by asterisk). Providing jacket-cover testimonials were Steven Kay QC, Philippe Sands QC, Professor and former Ambassador David Scheffer, and Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert. We hope that you’ll follow their recommendations and give these important, substantive essays a very good read.

Arcs of Global Justice:
Essays in Honour of William A. Schabas

Foreword by Diane Marie Amann* and Margaret M. deGuzman,* coeditors
Introduction: William Schabas: Portrait of a Scholar/Activist Extraordinaire by Roger S. Clark, Board of Governors Professor of Law, Rutgers University School of Law

Human Rights
Human Rights and International Criminal Justice in the Twenty First Century: The End of the Post-WWII Phase and the Beginning of an Uncertain New Era by M. Cherif Bassiouni (He died at age 79 in September, just weeks after he completed final changes on this essay; as posted, our conference included a memorial to him. At the time of his death, he was Emeritus Professor of Law, DePaul University College of Law; Honorary President, Siracusa Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights; and Honorary President, L’Association internationale de droit pénal.)
William Schabas, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and International Human Rights Law by Justice Thomas A. Cromwell, Supreme Court of Canada, and Bruno Gélinas-Faucher, formerly a law clerk on that court and now a Cambridge PhD candidate
The International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as a Victim-Oriented Treaty by Emmanuel Decaux, Professor Emeritus, Université Paris 2 (Panthéon-Assas), and former President, Committee on Enforced Disappearances
The Politics of Sectarianism and its Reflection in Questions of International Law & State Formation in The Middle East by Kathleen Cavanaugh, Senior Lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway, and  Joshua Castellino, Professor of Law & Dean of the School of Law, as well as the Business School, at Middlesex University, London

Capital Punishment
International Law and the Death Penalty: A Toothless Tiger, or a Meaningful Force for Change? by Sandra L. Babcock,* Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and Faculty Director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide
The UN Optional Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty by Marc Bossuyt, Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, Emeritus Professor of the University of Antwerp, Emeritus President of the Constitutional Court of Belgium, and former Chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights
The Right to Life and the Progressive Abolition of the Death Penalty by Christof Heyns, formerly the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 through 2016, and now a member of the UN Human Rights Committee and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, Thomas Probert, Research Associate, Centre of Governance & Human Rights, University of Cambridge, and Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, and former researcher for the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution
Progress and Trend of the Reform of the Death Penalty in China by Zhao Bingzhi, Dean of the College for Criminal Law Science of Beijing Normal University, President of the Criminal Law Research Association of China, Vice-President of the International Association of Penal Law, and President of that association’s Chinese National Group

International Criminal Law
Criminal Law Philosophy in William Schabas’ Scholarship by Margaret M. deGuzman,* Professor of Law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law
Is the ICC Focusing too Much on Non-State Actors? by Frédéric Mégret, Associate Professor and Dawson Scholar, Faculty of Law, McGill University
The Principle of Legality at the Crossroads of Human Rights and International Criminal Law by Shane Darcy, Senior Lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway
Revisiting the Sources of Applicable Law Before the ICC by Alain Pellet, Emeritus Professor at the University of Paris Nanterre, former Chairperson of the UN International Law Commission, President of the French Society for International Law, Member of the Institut de droit international, as well as Counsel and Advocate before the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and other forums
The ICC as a Work in Progress, for a World in Process by Mireille Delmas-Marty,* Member, Institut de France, and Professor Emerita, Collège de France de Paris
Legacy in International Criminal Justice by Carsten Stahn, Professor of International Criminal Law and Global Justice, Leiden University
Torture by Private Actors and ‘Gold Plating’ the Offence in National Law: An Exchange of Emails in Honour of William Schabas by Andrew Clapham, Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and Paola Gaeta, Professor of International Law and International Criminal Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
Secrets and Surprises in the Travaux Préparatoires of the Genocide Convention by Hirad Abtahi, First Legal Adviser, Head of the Legal and Enforcement Unit, at the Presidency of the International Criminal Court, and Philippa Webb, Reader (Associate Professor) in Public International Law at King’s College London and a barrister at 20 Essex Street Chambers
Perspectives on Cultural Genocide: From Criminal Law to Cultural Diversity by Jérémie Gilbert, Professor of International and Comparative Law, University of East London
Crimes Against Humanity: Repairing Title 18’s Blind Spots by Beth Van Schaack,* Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School and Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Security & Cooperation at Stanford University
A New Global Treaty on Crimes Against Humanity: Future Prospects by Leila Nadya Sadat,* James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law and Director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law, Special Adviser to the ICC Prosecutor on Crimes Against Humanity, and Director of the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative

Transitional Justice and Atrocity Prevention
Justice Outside of Criminal Courtrooms and Jailhouses by Mark A. Drumbl,* Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and Director, Transnational Law Institute, Washington and Lee University School of Law
Toward Greater Synergy between Courts and Truth Commissions in Post-Conflict Contexts: Lessons from Sierra Leone by Charles Chernor Jalloh, Professor of Law, Florida International University, and a member of the International Law Commission
International Criminal Tribunals and Cooperation with States: Serbia and the provision of evidence for the Slobodan Milosevic Trial at the ICTY by Geoffrey Nice QC, a barrister since 1971, formerly at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and Nevenka Tromp, Lecturer in East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam and former member of the ICTY Leadership Research Team
The Arc toward Justice and Peace by Mary Ellen O’Connell,* the Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School
The Maintenance of International Peace and Security through Prevention of Atrocity Crimes: The Question of Co-operation between the UN and regional Arrangements by Adama Dieng, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, as well as former Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and former Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists

Justice in Culture and Practice
Law and Film: Curating Rights Cinema by Emma Sandon, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Birkbeck, University of London, and a Research Fellow to the Chair for Social Change, University of Johannesburg
The Role of Advocates in Developing International Law by Wayne Jordash QC, international human rights and humanitarian lawyer and founding partner of Global Rights Compliance
Bill the Blogger by Diane Marie Amann,* Emily and Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

Optimism about “Arcs of Global Justice” at London launch of our OUP essay collection honouring William A. Schabas

LONDON – “Optimism” was the byword for Friday’s magical conference launching Arcs of Global Justice: Essays in Honour of William A. Schabas, the just-published Oxford University Press collection coedited by Margaret M. deGuzman and myself.

The event took place in a Christmas-tree-lighted conference room at 9 Bedford Row, the London chambers where our honouree, Bill Schabas (above center), is a door tenant. Joining Bill and his wife, Penelope Soteriou, were several of the 35 women and men whose 29 contributions comprise the volume, many friends, colleagues, PhD students, and relatives.

Gillian Higgins (left), Head of the International Practice Group at 9 Bedford Row, opened with a warm message of welcome and congratulations. Then followed a celebration that combined lighthearted anecdotes with serious presentations of scholarship. Topics ranged as far and wide as Schabas’ multifaceted career, which includes current appointments as Professor of International Law at Middlesex University, London, Professor of International Criminal Law and Human Rights at Leiden University, and Emeritus Professor of Human Rights Law and Honorary Chairman of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway; service as a member of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as a consultant on capital punishment for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime; and authorship of hundreds of books, chapters, and articles.

A sobering moment came in Birkbeck Lecturer Emma Sandon‘s discussion of Schabas’ role as an organizer of and speaker at human rights film festivals. Sandon (above) concluded with a clip from Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). All fell silent while watching the characters in the video courtroom watch actual footage from the Allied liberations of concentration camps like Buchenwald.

Also moving was the memorial that Northwestern University Law Professor David Scheffer gave on behalf of contributor Cherif Bassiouni, who died at age 79 in September, not long after finishing his chapter, entitled “Human Rights and International Criminal Justice in the Twenty-First Century: The End of the Post-WWII Phase and the Beginning of an Uncertain New Era.” (Bassiouni also penned a dedication for our conference programme, available in PDF here.) Scheffer described the essay in light of his own and Schabas’ writings, and concluded on a optimistic note regarding the future of human rights.

That same note sounded in Schabas’ own interventions throughout the day. On issues ranging from the International Criminal Court to abolition of the death penalty, he assured his audience that even in these times, when the day-to-day “weather” may seem grim, the overall “climate” offers much room for optimism.

Here’s order of the day (full PDF programme here; IntLawGrrls participating were Meg, Sandra Babcock, and me; additional contributors in attendance included Middlesex Law Dean Joshua Castellino and Cambridge PhD candidate Bruno Gélinas-Faucher):

Arcs of Global Justice:
Conference Launching Essay Collection in Honour of William A. Schabas
Friday, 8 December 2017, 9 Bedford Row, London

Opening
“Welcome” by Gillian Higgins, Head of the International Practice Group at 9 Bedford Row
“In Memoriam for Cherif Bassiouni” by David Scheffer, Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law and Director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, Chicago
“Introduction to Arcs of Global Justice” by coeditors Diane Marie Amann and Margaret M. deGuzman

International Law & Criminal Justice
“The Principle of Legality at the Crossroads of Human Rights & International Criminal Law” by Shane Darcy, Senior Lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway
“Criminal Law Philosophy in William Schabas’s Scholarship” by Margaret M. deGuzman, Professor of Law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law
“Perspectives on Cultural Genocide: From Criminal Law to Cultural Diversity” by Jérémie Gilbert, Professor of International and Comparative Law, University of East London
“Toward Greater Synergy between Courts & Truth Commissions in Post-Conflict Context: Lessons from Sierra Leone” by Charles Chernor Jalloh, Professor of Law, Florida International University, and a member of the International Law Commission
Moderator: Kathleen Cavanaugh, Senior Lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway

Justice / Scholarship / Culture / Practice
“Bill the Blogger” by Diane Marie Amann, Emily and Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law
“Advocates, Scholars & Maintaining the International Criminal Law Momentum” by Wayne Jordash QC, international human rights and humanitarian lawyer and founding partner of Global Rights Compliance
“Law & Film: Curating Rights Cinema” by Emma Sandon, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Birkbeck, University of London, and a Research Fellow to the Chair for Social Change, University of Johannesburg
Moderator: Michelle Farrell, Senior Lecturer in Law in the School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool

Abolition of the Death Penalty
“International Law & the Death Penalty: A Toothless Tiger, or a Meaningful Force for Change?” by Sandra L. Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and Faculty Director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide
The Right to Life & the Progressive Abolition of the Death Penalty by Thomas Probert, Research Associate, Centre of Governance & Human Rights, University of Cambridge (on behalf of himself & co-authors Christof Heyns & Tess Borden)
Moderator: Jon Yorke, Professor of Human Rights and Director of the Centre for Human Rights at Birmingham City School of Law

Closing
Introduction by John Louth, Editor-in-Chief of Academic Law at Oxford University Press
Remarks by William A. Schabas OC MRIA

Reception

With thanks to our host, 9 Bedford Row, & cosponsor, Oxford University Press

◊ ◊ ◊

Cross-posted at Diane Marie Amann. Tomorrow’s post: Details on Arcs of Justice: Essays in Honour of William A. Schabas (Margaret M. deGuzman and Diane Marie Amann, eds.) (OUP 2018) (The hardback may be ordered via OUP or Amazon, and the book’s also available on Kindle.)

Lecture on a Nuremberg woman, November 29 in New Orleans

Longtime readers will know of IntLawGrrls’ abiding interest in “Women at Nuremberg”; that is, women lawyers, women journalists, and other women who played seldom-remarked roles at the post-World War II war crimes trials at Nuremberg. Louisiana-area readers are advised to take advantage of an opportunity to learn about one such woman: “Bessie Margolin and the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials” will be presented from 12 noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, November 29, as a Lagniappe Lecture at the National WWII Museum, 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans.

The speaker will be Marlene Trestman, lawyer and author of Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin (2016), a superb biography of an extraordinary lawyer who helped shape the . The book succeeds Trestman’s 2012 journal article about Margolin, about which I wrote here.

If you’re in the area, this lecture, to be followed by a book signing, is well worth attending. Details here.

Doty named Director of Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center; Amann and Cohen Faculty Co-Directors

Kathleen A. Doty is the new Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law. Assisting her are two Faculty Co-Directors, Diane Marie Amann and Harlan G. Cohen. The appointments took effect on August 1.

Since May 2017, Doty (left) has served as the Center’s Interim Director. She joined the law school in 2015, serving first as the Center’s Associate Director of Global Practice Preparation and then as Director of Global Practice Preparation. Her portfolio included: planning and the implementation of lectures, conferences and other events; research projects; advising students interested in global legal practice; administering Global Externships Overseas and At-Home; and coordinating and serving as a faculty member in the Global Governance Summer School, a 10-day offering in Europe conducted in partnership with the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies at the University of Leuven, Belgium.

She is a longtime member and former editor of IntLawGrrls (prior posts here, here, and here), and helped coordinate the blog’s 10th Birthday Conference, held at Georgia Law this past March.

As Director, Doty will oversee both global practice preparation and international professional education, including the Master of Laws, or LL.M., degree for foreign-trained lawyers. Her duties as a member of the law faculty will include teaching the Legal System of the United States course to LL.M. candidates.

Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge said:

“We are very pleased that Kate Doty has agreed to take on this leadership role at the law school. I am confident that the center will benefit from her energy and extensive experience in the practice of international law.”

This autumn, the Center will celebrate its 40th birthday. Its namesake is Dean Rusk, who served as a law professor at the University of Georgia after serving as Secretary of State to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The Center serves as the law school’s international law and policy nucleus for education, scholarship, and other collaborations among faculty and students, the law school community, and diverse local and global partners. U.S. News & World Report ranks the law school’s international law curriculum 18th among U.S. law schools.

Doty will be the fifth person to lead the Dean Rusk International Law Center, following in the footsteps of Fredrick W. Huszagh, Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Gabriel M. Wilner, C. Donald Johnson Jr., and, most recently, Diane Marie Amann (yours truly, at left).

Professor Amann, who holds the Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, has just completed a term as Georgia Law’s Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives. An expert in public international law, she is a Counsellor of the American Society of International Law and serves as Special Adviser to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict. She is IntLawGrrls’ founder and an editor emerita (prior posts here, here, and here).

Amann will serve as Faculty Co-Director with Professor Cohen (right), holder of the Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professorship in International Law and an international economic law expert who is the Managing Editor of AJIL Unbound, the online platform of the American Journal of International Law.

In Dean Rutledge’s words:

“Diane provided excellent leadership for the Center over the past two-plus years, creating a strong foundation on which Kate and her team, assisted by Harlan and Diane, will build. I am confident the law school’s influence in the area of international law and policy will continue to grow.”

Before joining the Dean Rusk International Law Center, Doty practiced treaty law in Washington, D.C., as Assistant Counsel for Arms Control & International Law at the Office of the General Counsel, Strategic Systems Programs, U.S. Department of the Navy. Before that, she was Attorney-Editor at the D.C.-based American Society of International Law, where her duties included managing the American Journal of International Law and editing publications like ASIL Insights, International Law in Brief, International Legal Materials and the Benchbook on International Law. Her published writings cover issues such as the European Court of Human Rights, refugee law, transitional justice and the U.S. military commissions at Guantánamo.

She serves in leadership roles for the American Society of International Law (with which Georgia Law is an Academic Partner), as Chair of ASIL’s Non-Proliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament Interest Group and Vice Chair of its Lieber Society on the Law of Armed Conflict. In 2016, Doty was selected as a Young Leaders Fellow by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and joined other fellows in a professional development tour of China.

While earning her J.D. degree at the University of California, Davis School of Law, she competed in the international rounds of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. After serving as a judicial clerk on the Hawaiʻi Intermediate Court of Appeals, she was the inaugural Fellow of the California International Law Center at Cal-Davis Law. She received her undergraduate degree from Smith College, with a major in Latin American Studies and a minor in Film Studies, and studied abroad at La Universidad de la Habana in Cuba. She is fluent in Spanish and proficient in French.

[I’m very pleased to cross-post this item, which appeared at our Center’s Exchange of Notes blog. References to IntLawGrrls have been added for the purposes of this cross-post.]

At the centenary of chemical warfare, a visit to Flanders’ World War I battlefields

YPRES, Belgium – Beautiful vistas and bright sunlight cannot blind the visitor to the pain of this place.

This place is Flanders Fields, the name given to the part of west Belgium, close to the French border, that saw intense battles and horrendous casualties during World War I. This town – Ypres in French and Ieper in Flemish, but called “Wipers” by British WWI soldiers – played a central role. So too nearby Passchendaele/Passendale. Both towns were leveled, and like many in the region, were rebuilt in the old manner after the war ended.

During the war, upwards of half a million persons died in this area alone.

Our visit to Flanders Fields occurred on the 4th of July. Memories linger, and were sparked again by today’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st large-scale use, in Ypres, of chemical weapons; mustard gas, to be precise. It was the 3d compound to be attempted, after chlorine and phosgene proved less reliable as lethal weapons, according to our tour guide, Raoul Saracen, a retired history teacher. Initial efforts to fight back against chemicals also were crude: before the development and widespread distribution of gas masks, Canadian troops resorted to breathing through kerchiefs soaked in ammonia-rich urine.

The cruelty of chemical warfare did not stop its use. Recording other places where chemicals have been used was a signpost in Langemark, the cemetery where German soldiers (including several with whom I share a surname) are buried. Tokyo, Japan, Halabja, Iraq, and Ghouta, Syria, receive mention, though more recent gassing sites in that last country have yet to be added.

The thousands of headstones in the many Flanders Fields cemeteries of course give pause. So too the cramped trenches, still on display at Sanctuary Wood Museum.

Yet it was a different site that stole my breath – the “dressing station,” a kind of field hospital, at Essex Farm Cemetery. The station’s cement-bunker cells were small, dark, and saddening, a truly concrete reminder of the scourge of war.

(Cross-posted)