Category: International & Comparative Law

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The PRC Celebrates Its 62nd Birthday

Seeing as I spend a great deal of time thinking, talking, and writing about China, it seems fitting that my first day guest blogging coincides with the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. The celebration got off to an early start with the launch of China’s first space lab module, called Heavenly Palace No. 1 (discussed here on New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos’s excellent blog). Today, the festivities turned to Beijing where the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are celebrating 62 years of uninterrupted rule. As election season heats up here in the United States, the DNC and RNC understandably could be envious at the prospect of not having to deal with a multi-party system.

Although CPC rule has been consistent over six decades, the experience of the individual leaders in Zhongnanhai (the headquarters near Tiananmen Square in Beijing) has been much more complicated as they jockey for power behind the scenes. The public face is one of orderly transition on a periodic basis, as seen in the handing of power from the third-generation leaders (led by Jiang Zemin) to fourth-generation leaders in the early 2000s (led by Hu Jintao) and, as currently playing out, to the fifth-generation leaders. As was on display today, in public, the top guys (and they are all still guys) wear the same suits and even have near identical haircuts and hair-dye. Yet much speculation is afoot about the future composition of and hierarchy within the Politburo and, at the pinnacle of power, the Politburo Standing Committee.

Xi Jinping is the overwhelming frontrunner for the top post, with Li Keqiang looking to be in the number two spot. Interestingly, Li was one of the first students to study law at Peking University after schools reopened following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Li was never a practicing lawyer, but even having studied law sets him apart as unusual in China’s leadership. There’s been little indication that Li will be a champion of legal reforms once the leadership transition is complete. Nonetheless, his ascent raises questions whether people with legal backgrounds are poised to take a more conspicuous role in the Party/government.

 

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Super on Egypt and the Need for the U.S. to Use its Leverage to Secure Democracy

In a follow up to earlier commentary, Professor David Super has an insightful and important editorial in the Los Angeles Times entitled Time for the U.S. to Use its Leverage with Egypt.  As Super explains, the Egyptian revolution is not a one-act play–indeed, its fate is uncertain and the U.S. can and must play a crucial role in securing democracy by telling the new ruling generals that further crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators will bring an immediate interruption in all aid.  See the editorial below the fold. Read More

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What is a treaty? Is that the right question?

(Thanks to Danielle and the Co-Op crowed for letting me stick around a bit longer.)

I am interested in how we should think about treaties.  More specifically, I am interested in different ways we might think about treaties, and why different ways might be appropriate in different circumstances.  At one extreme we might think of treaties as establishing sacred duties, as being based on oaths with deep religious implications.  (Jeremy Waldon has a very interesting discussion of the history of this idea in his recent Charles E. Test lectures, “A Religious View of the Foundations of International Law”.)  I think that there’s a case to be made that supposed principle of international law (or of natural law, depending on one’s account), pacta sunt servanda, depends on this understanding, though I won’t try to make that case here.  (If so, this would be interesting in light of fact that Hans Kelsen at one point held, I believe, pacta sunt servanda to be the “basic norm” of international law, though he later abandoned this.) Read More

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Critical Jewish Studies?

The first two areas I could say I had an actual scholarly interest in were Church/State law and Critical Race Theory. This wasn’t an accident — I got interest in CRT because the method of analysis it used really spoke to me as a Jew. It seemed to do a better job of capturing the various problems and barriers faced by members of marginalized groups beyond the standard, thin liberal story.

When I finally got access to Lexis as an undergraduate at Carleton, one of the first things I did was run a search for something approximating a “Critical Jewish Theory”. And I came up with … virtually nothing. With one very notable exception — Stephen Feldman at the University of Wyoming (I know, I know: Jewish studies in Wyoming — could it get any more cliched?) — it was a virtual dead-end. Even Professor Feldman’s work, which I admire and has influenced me greatly, focuses primarily on the American Church/State context. An important topic, to be sure, but hardly the only one which intersects with Jewish lives and areas of concern (international law, in particular, seems like a gimme).

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One Hundred Years Later . . .

Before I get into the substance of this post, I should mention that I’ve finished Chapter Two of Bingham book, which brings the story up to 1840.  Hopefully I’ll have Chapter 3 (of 12) done next month.

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Parliament Act in the UK, which stripped the House of Lords of its power to block permanently a bill passed by the House of Commons.  One interesting facet of this Act is it was intended as a temporary solution until the House of Lords could be reformed.  Here’s what the Preamble of the Act says:

“[W]hereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation:

And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber, but it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for restricting the existing powers of the House of Lords.”

The charm of the British Constitution is in its gradualism, but this may be taking things too far.

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Tsunami and “natural rights” in property


תַּחַת כָּל-הַשָּׁמַיִם לִי-הוּא
— Iyov 41:3 (Tanakh)

Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
— Job 41:11 (Authorized Version)

It’s said that the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of 1755 had a profound effect on the thought of Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, and others. Having occurred so far from Western intellectual centers, the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami and the 2011 Japan tsunami are unlikely to be so influential. The first fits easily into the discourse of “underdevelopment,” and evokes our pity. The second occurred in a country more “like us” in many ways, but was soon overshadowed by just one of its effects, a so-called nuclear “catastrophe” that fits easily into the discourse of energy politics and money, and that resonates with our bi-polar attitude toward technology.

While I can’t speak to the 2004 tsunami, I did spend time earlier this month investigating the impact of the Japanese tragedy first-hand. Obviously, the effects of seeing one erased town or neighborhood after another, in three dimensions and 360 degrees, and of smelling them, and of sneezing or choking on their dust, were more than intellectual. But an unavoidable by-product of the experience is that it’s hard not to think some of our cherished intellectual positions are vain, self-serving and simply wrong. And among them, our notions of property.
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Accounting for Power

Recent revelations in Japan suggest just how important an understanding of accounting may be.

In a post in late March, I related that many Japanese were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to TEPCO, the operator of the damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, in the days following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The most common excuse in the language, “Shikata ga nai” (“It can’t be helped”), struck most people as apposite, given the historical rarity of 9.0 earthquakes and 15-meter killer waves.

By now, the situation has almost been integrated into the everyday, at least for those of us far from the reactor. People speculate whether the government nuclear agency’s lead spokesperson is wearing a wig, and a cable news channel has a daily segment, “Kyou no genpatsu kiiwaado” – “Today’s nuke reactor keyword”. Any goodwill toward TEPCO has long since evaporated, thanks to its management’s sloth in apologizing, its spokespersons’ frequent misstatements and evasions in daily press conferences, and sympathy for the thousands displaced from the evacuation zone, their livelihoods derailed (and their pets and livestock reluctantly left behind to starve, an aspect of the story that has mobilized many activists here). But it turns out that even the initial goodwill was probably misplaced.
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Thoughts on an Earthquake: Narratives and Governance

[Attorney and journalist Andrew J. Sutter is the only foreign member of the Iwate Prefecture Bar Association. He lives most of the year in central Tokyo. We've invited him to give his perspective on recent events in Japan. --FP]

There’s been a joke making the rounds of Tokyo during the past week or so: The government announces in the morning that there could be a sudden blackout sometime by early evening, since power capacity is down and the demand is already very near to capacity. In America, the blackout happens, and stores get looted. In China, the blackout happens and no one notices, since they’re already a common occurrence. In France the blackout happens, and people start to make love. In Germany the blackout happens, and no one cares, because everyone has solar power. In Japan, millions of Japanese conscientiously reduce power consumption, so the blackout is avoided – and then people are pissed off because the blackout didn’t happen as announced.

Aside from showing the gentleness of the Japanese sense of satire, it’s a true story, based on events in Tokyo exactly one week after the Touhoku (northeastern Japan) earthquake. The joke arrived on my wife’s cell phone about an hour or two after officials rescinded the warning.

The joke also shows a certain trust in the government and in the reliability of its pronouncements. More about this below the fold.
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The Other Bush Doctrine

As someone who thinks and writes about transitional justice issues, I have been far more interested in recent events in Sudan than those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (more on this in later posts), but that doesn’t mean I have not been watching in wonder and admiration the events unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East.  I think we all have; and those are easy intellectual emotions to justify.  What I have been more conflicted about is whether it is also appropriate for us to feel a bit of pride.  I think it is, but not for the reasons many conservatives have been trumpeting

More after the jump.

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