Lviv in international law – HRLA lecture

Yesterday Professor Philippe Sands QC gave a great lecture entitled The Memory of Justice: The Unexpected Place of Lviv in International Law – A Personal History.

This HRLA event was hosted by Freshfields. All those who attended would like to thank Professor Philippe Sands QC, HRLA, Simone Abel, René Cassin, Jonathan Cooper OBE, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht QC, Freshfields and everyone else involved in arranging the lecture. This was the best HRLA lecture which I have ever attended and, with the exception having heard and seen him on television, it was the only time that I have heard Professor Sands speak. (I have read Lawless World and Torture Team cover to cover though.) And I really did want to ask him what he meant when he quoted Dylan (It’s alright ma) in Lawless world – “money doesn’t talk it swears”?

Apart from international law, the subject of the lecture was a town in western Ukraine which is now known as Lviv – but in the past it has been known as Lemburg and Lwów. During the great oppression and mass murder of the Jews in Europe in the last century, Lviv’s Jan Kazimierz University (between 1919-1939 Poland’s third largest university following Warsaw and Kraków) was a hotbed for the study of international law.

Alumni from the Jan Kazimierz University (JKU) have gone on to do some very great things. Professor Sands, whose maternal grandmother was born in Lviv in 1904, touched upon three such personalities.

I. Louis Sohn (1914-2006)

“By the time he was six, Louis Sohn had lived under the rule of four different rulers without setting foot outside the city. He lived through the famous 1918 pogrom against the Jews, of which community he was a member, and a Red Army siege in August 1920. It is no surprise that his view of the world – and the quest for stability and protection – would be informed by these events.”

Sohn received degrees in law and science from the JKU in 1935. Subsequently, in order to save his life, he fled Poland to study in Harvard University in the US where he earned a postgraduate degree and a doctorate.

Sohn’s work was on the Convention of the Law of the Sea and Professor Sands explained that “without him, it is unlikely that Annex VII of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea – the source of numerous cases in recent years – would have seen the light of day.”

II. Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959)

Lemkin obtained a doctorate in law from JKU in 1926.

For Lemkin, “Sovereignty cannot be conceived as the right to kill millions of innocent people”.

He considered language to be the most common human currency. He, therefore, spoke no less than nine languages. Like Sohn, Lemkin fled Poland to the safety of the US in 1939.

He coined the word “genocide” in 1943 by fusing the Greek word genos (meaning family or tribe) with the Latin word cide (meaning killing). He used this term to expose the extent of Nazi atrocities in his most famous book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.

Sadly his definition of genocide was not adopted at Nuremberg where he served as advisor to the chief prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson.

Lemkin was the author of the Genocide Convention which was adopted by the UN General Assembly (where he is said to have been a “permanent fixture”) in 1948. However, the press, eager to share in Lemkin’s triumph, found him weeping in solitude in a dark hall when the Genocide Convention was adopted.

He remained disappointed that the Nuremberg trials did not make more of his concept of genocide.

III. Hersch Lauterpacht (1897-1960)

Hersch Lauterpacht was the father of Sir Elihu Lauterpacht QC who has taught Professor Sands.

Hersch Lauterpacht studied law at the JKU for eight semesters but was not awarded a degree despite successfully passing examinations in law and history because the universities had been “closed to the Jews.”

Hersch Lauterpacht also studied under Hans Kelsen in Vienna. He studied and later taught at the LSE. Thereafter, he was appointed the Whewell Professor of International Law at Cambridge University. He worked with Sir Hartley Shawcross – the chief British prosecutor at Nuremberg.

Hersch Lauterpacht was central in drafting the text of Article VI of the Nuremberg Charter. This provided that, if committed, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against the peace would result in individual criminal prosecution of heads of state.

In 1954, the United Kingdom nominated Hersch Lauterpacht as a candidate for election to the International Court of Justice. Minister of State Selwyn Lloyd supported his nomination describing it as the “best thing”.

However, Sir Lionel Heald MP (Attorney General) thought that Lauterpacht was not “thoroughly British”. As an immigrant Lauterpacht did not possess the “birth”, “name”, and “education” to be accommodated in the legal profession and the House of Commons. (Or so the AG said.)

Regardless, he was elected and Lauterpacht served at the ICJ until his death in 1960.

Professor Sands also explained that owing to the Polish Minorities Treaty of 1919, his own grandfather’s nationality changed (as if by a stroke of luck) from Austrian to Polish which meant that when the Nazis arrived in Vienna in 1938 they classified Philippe’s grandfather as a foreigner. Foreigners did not have their passports stamped with a “J” for Juden and were given a Fremedepass instead. (A life saver no doubt!)

For those who could not make it the full lecture is available below (with Phillipe’s permission).

About Asad Ali Khan, BA, MSc, MA, LL.B (Hons), LL.M

Senior Partner, Khan & Co, Barristers-at-Law
This entry was posted in Genocide, HRLA, International Law, Jan Kazimierz University, Lviv, Nuremberg, Ukraine and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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