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Crimes Against Humanity:
On 24 March 1999, the English law lords delivered their final verdict on the General Pinochet case, and coincidentally NATO started bombing Serbia from the air. These qualified successes, despite equivocal legality, showed a tide-turn in the momentum of the struggle against the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, be they individuals or states. Geoffrey Robertson, an advocate of human rights for many years, devotes the first half of this persuasive and forthright book to the history of human rights thinking until the pivotal Nuremberg Charter of 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the recent development of international law to govern them. He marshals his arguments with the tenacious verve and immutable confidence one expects from his profession, and the hi-octane polemic allows little space for the refuge of uncertainty, and indeed prompts the occasional speculation that you're being sold a rotten piece of fruit hidden among the ripe. The more satisfying second half focuses on familiar troublespots of the last decade or so, particularly Kosovo, as well as the wearying impotence of the United Nations, and the establishment of necessarily cautious war crimes tribunals in The Hague and Arusha. Robertson has his favourites (HG Wells and Thomas Paine), and his bÍte noires (US senator Jesse Helms, Pinochet, cultural relativism), and it rankles considerably that the US, which sets itself up as a moral custodian, refuses to sign up for an International Criminal Court for fear of compromising its sovereignty. For all the choice rhetoric, without enforcement any notion of global justice is mere lip-service, and the conclusion Robertson reaches, as any good lawyer would, is that only a universally ratified international criminal court will turn pious words into effective action. The world is shrinking rapidly, and the last 10 years have seen human rights become a fashionable concern; important books like this allow little room for moral complacency, even while the soft shoe shuffle of diplomacy finally begins to give way to the march of justice. --David Vincent [via]