In For the Love of Humanity: The World Tribunal on Iraq, Ayça Çubukçu illustrates how different and sometimes colliding understandings of justice, human rights, legitimacy and international law co-existed in response to the Iraq occupation through the case of the World Tribunal on Iraq, which sought to document and provide grounds for adjudicating war crimes committed by the US, the UK and their allied forces during the Iraq War. The combination of ethnographic insight and meticulous engagement with political and legal theories makes this a compelling read, recommends Ebru Demir.
For the Love of Humanity: The World Tribunal on Iraq. Ayça Çubukçu. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2018.
Why is the use of international law becoming increasingly prevalent in global affairs? What are the consequences of the widespread use of such an incoherent, colonial and imperial law as the lingua franca? In For the Love of Humanity: The World Tribunal on Iraq, Ayça Çubukçu asks these highly important questions and reveals the ambivalent role of international law in legitimising and/or delegitimising human rights violations.
The book illustrates how different and sometimes colliding understandings of justice, human rights, legitimacy and international law co-existed in response to the Iraq occupation through the case of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) (6). The WTI was organised from 2003 to 2005 by a transnational network of anti-war activists (eyewitnesses, lawyers, journalists, scholars and so forth) in Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Genoa, Istanbul, Lisbon, London, Mumbai, New York, Rome, Seoul, Stockholm and several cities in Japan in order ‘to tell and disseminate the truth about the Iraq war’ (3-4). Çubukçu defines herself as ‘a participant observer during the conceptualisation and practical formation of the WTI, committed as an activist and anthropologist at once’ (3). In addition to creating ‘an ethnographically grounded critical analysis of the politics of human rights, international law, and cosmopolitanism in the early twenty-first century’ (12), with this book Çubukçu forges a space where the politics of human rights and international law can be discussed in relation to other cases too: after all, there are other victims of empire.
There were striking discussions during the WTI sessions which Çubukçu probes through an exquisite analysis. First, very important debates centred around the legitimacy of the WTI. Where does the legitimacy of such a tribunal come from? Can the WTI (claim to) represent Iraqis? Under which values or laws should the WTI act? Çubukçu’s ethnographic research method enables the reader to access intriguing conversations in the tribunal in relation to the ways in which the participants considered the WTI legitimate. In Chapters One and Two, Çubukçu categorises the legitimacy discussions under two headings: the legalist approach and the political approach. Supporters of the former sought the legitimacy of the WTI in international law. Some participants in the WTI argued that ‘if the correct procedural regime was followed’, the WTI’s findings would be irrefutable (23). Çubukçu regards this as an illustration of the ‘establishment of law’s empire and legal cosmopolitanism’ (26). Indeed, for the reader, it is striking to see that international law has become the essential language for legitimisation which even anti-imperial politics apply. By embracing the legalist approach, the tribunal seems to have also embraced, to some extent, its problematic and uncertain relationship to imperial power.