Tag Archives: International Law

Chaos and Progress

As a new school year begins I find myself freshly enthralled with All Things Law.  I won’t bore you with the details of each of my classes, but I will share my International Law prof’s opening question:

Do civilizations tend to become more civilized?

At first blush it seems that civilizations obviously progress towards more civilization. After all, we’re reading blogs on an absurdly-complicated system of wires and human cooperation.

But defining progress as technological advancements seems tautological.  We tend towards better technology, therefore we define “advanced technology” as “progress.”

But isn’t it true that civilizations like Mesopotamia and North Africa are among the oldest on earth?  Mesopotamia appears doomed to perpetual civil war without any sovereign vested with the power to declare or terminate war.  North Africa suffers from such stringent desertification that inhabitants wonder how deep the water table runs beneath their parched, nearly-uninhabitable land.

Modern America, on the other hand, enjoys relative solidity as one of the great newcomers to the civilized scene.  With a few years of dominance under our belt, we’re now screaming for reform and complaining that the end is nigh for life — the elements of life, in fact: our ability to maintain our own health! — as we know it.

Indeed, if we define “progress” as economic health, the freshest newcomer, the European Union as defined by its collective currency, holds a prominent position.

Age and chaos aren’t necessarily related — see, e.g., Japan — but, while I raised my hand in class today to support the proposition that nations tend towards progress, now I’m not sure at all whether that’s true.


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Journalists Held in North Korea

Two journalists arrested in North Korea this March found their sentences upheld by N. Korea’s highest court yesterday.  The women were arrested for entering the country and for committing a “grave crime.”  See news reports here and here.

One report claims the “grave crime” charged was spying.  The Americans entered the country and spoke to refugees attempting to escape to China.  Officials took the jouranlsits into custody when a border guard objected to being filmed.  While it seems it should have been obvious that the women were in dangerous territory — this was hardly the French/Italian border — CNN’s report includes an indication that the women only decided to cross into North Korea after arriving at the border:

“When the girls left the United States, they never intended to cross into North Korean soil. And if they did at any point, we apologize,” Ling’s sister, Lisa, a special correspondent for CNN, said last week. 

Relevant news reports characteristically refer to officials by their country names (making it difficult to know who among country officials are negotiating), but apparenty “North Korea” has encouraged America’s suggestion that Al Gore visit Pyongyang to discuss the journalists’ release.  North Korea clearly hopes to use this incarceration as a bargaining chip with the United States.  

(Note: Why Al Gore?  Shouldn’t it be Hillary Clinton responsible for this relationship?   This seems squarely within State affairs.)


Demonstrators in South Korea vy for the journalists release

Demonstrators in South Korea vy for the journalists' release



The women were arrested in March and the highest Korean court only upheld their final — now unappealable — sentence this week.  Between March and now US/North Korean relations have declined.

The ruling, nearly three months after their arrest, comes amid soaring tensions fueled by North Korea’s nuclear test last month and signs it is preparing for a long-range missile test. On Monday, North Korea warned fishing boats to stay away from the east coast, Japan’s coast guard said, raising concerns more missile tests are being planned.

North Korean courts sentenced these women to the harshest allowable sentence (12 years of hard labor), ostensibly as a response to America’s threats to erect more stringent trade sanctions and put N. Korea back on the list of most-watched state sponsors of terrorism.

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Netherlands Runs out of Prisoners

Check this out. Holland has run out of prisoners and must decide whether to close prisons or to lease prison space to Belgium:

During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees.

Deputy justice minister Nebahat Albayrak announced on Tuesday that eight prisons will be closed, resulting in the loss of 1,200 jobs. Natural redundancy and other measures should prevent any forced lay-offs, the minister said.

It is almost too obvious that dropping the drug war solves the problems w/ our criminal “justice” system.

BB citing this post.

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Weekend Links

Michael Stokes Paulsen weighs in on OPR’s threatened torture memo sanctions.

Prof. Balkin’s response to MSP.

Girl power at Preakness: First girl takes it since 1924! Go Rachel Alexandra!

An old but interesting Atlantic article: Lost in the Meritocracy.

BoingBoing citing Mercatus: Index of Freedom by American states.

I can’t decide whether to call this one plain “disrespectful” or actually Obama biting off more than he can chew. For somebody who looks like he supports diversity he doesn’t have a lot of respect for defensible points of view different from his own. Obama incites abortion discussion at Notre Dame, America’s “leading Catholic university.”

Kimberly Strassel on the NIMBY of Gitmo.

Why pirates escape jurisdiction. That post includes a link to Foreign Affairs mag’s list of “must reads” about pirates in general.

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It’s Pirates’ Rights for Me

Do Pirates Have Rights under the Geneva Conventions?

[F]or international lawyers the most interesting questions involve the defense’s apparent invocation of the Geneva Conventions. It’s unclear whether and how Muse would rely on them — perhaps he’ll argue that he’s an unlawful enemy combatant entitled to the protections of Common Article III? It’s hard though to see how he’d be entitled to a provision that applies to non-international armed conflicts “occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties.” That territorial restriction seems to exclude events on the high seas, or even in a state’s EEZ. But even if Common Article III applied, where’s the violation? Muse was injured, so he must get “humane” treatment, but I’ve yet to see any reports suggesting he was treated otherwise; and any prosecution in the Southern District of New York should meet Common Article III’s minimum standards of due process.

And a quote from a civil rights lawyer who may represent Abduwali Muse, the sole Somali survivor of the latest pirate attack:

I think in this particular case, there’s a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas,” said Kuby. “This man seemed to come onto the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age.

This is completely fascinating. I wonder how different the precedent would look for pirates’ civil rights at any other time in our country’s history? And I’ve said this before, but I’d love–love!–to see statistics about wartime behavior and behavioral incentives depending on the status of the combatants, countries, and Conventions. If I were a sociologist, this would be my dissertation.

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