Any review of this book should start with a disclaimer: following the trend of many academic publications on the market today, its title is broader than its content. The expectation that this edited volume might take on the – long overdue – discussion of how the disciplines of history and (international) law interact is disappointed. As I have lamented elsewhere 1, it is still to be desired that scholars of history, legal history, and public international law enter into a true interdisciplinary exchange with each other, even against the background of multiple innovative projects of historians dealing with questions of international law and vice-versa (cf. also the caveat remarks in the contribution by Bekou in the present volume at p. 136).
This publication does not bring that goal any closer. The book offers but one general contribution, followed by a regional, rather than an interdisciplinary perspective on international law. All other contributions are concerned with history as an element in considering specific issues in the areas of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. In another review, it was already highlighted that the title is ‘perhaps somewhat misleading’.2
The edited volume consists of eight contributions preceded by an introduction by the eminent Italian international legal scholar and now judge at the International Court of Justice Giorgio Gaja. The individual chapters are divided into three parts. Part I entitled ‘History and International Law: An Introduction’ contains contributions by Rolf Einar Fife on ‘Creative Forces and Institution Building in International Law’ and by Stefan Troebst on ‘Eastern Europe’s Imprint on Modern International Law’. Part II on ‘History and International Human Rights Law’ consists of two contributions, ‘History, Isolation and Effectiveness of International Human Rights Law’ by Annalisa Ciampi, the editor of the book, and ‘EU Human Rights Law and History: A Tale of Three Narratives’ by Sionaidh Douglas-Scott. Part III entitled ‘History, International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law’ takes up the largest part of the book with four contributions: Gilad Ben-Nun, ‘“Treaty after Trauma”: “Protection for All” in the Fourth Geneva Convention’; Olympia Bekou, ‘History and Core International Crimes: Friends or Foes?’; Katarina Ristić, ‘“Imaginary Trials”: The Legacy of the ICTY in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia’; Erika de Wet, ‘The Rise and Demise of the ICC Relationship with African States and the AU’. The chapters are followed by a concise index.
Unfortunately, in absence of a preface, it is not quite clear to the reader what the book seeks to achieve and whether it is the result of a research project, a conference, or a call for authors. Following a quick online search, it appears to be the output of a broader academic conference that took place from 4-5 June 2018 at the University of Verona 3 as part of an EU Horizon 2020 project on ‘The 4th Geneva Convention’s Drafting History as the origin of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Duty to Prevent (D2P)’.4
The volume brings together scholars of both law and history. Although eight contributors are a rather unrepresentative sample, they are almost equally divided in their backgrounds between legal scholarship and the humanities. All three historians are affiliated with Leipzig University which has been a hub in recent years for historians dealing with issues of international law from an interdisciplinary perspective.
While the book does not hold the promise of its title, it will be interesting to many different readers for many different reasons: Fife traces the evolution of the uti possidetis principle, discusses the impact of Soviet international law doctrine, and reflects on the creation of the European Union as a supranational organisation to emphasise the impact of legal thought on the course of world events. Troebst highlights the role of events in Eastern European history on the development of international law and, thereby, fills a lacuna in the narrative of the history of international law. Ciampi offers a view of human rights law as a field detached from other areas of law and its interconnections with the historical development of international economic law. Douglas-Scott draws together the many different narratives on the development of human rights law within Europe. Ben-Nun writes up an impressive account of the creation of the Fourth Geneva Convention based on original source material. Bekou shows how provisions of international criminal law are burdened by the atrocities triggering their conceptual evolution and how they are continuously reinterpreted in light of current events. Ristić contrasts the legal and the nationalist narrative of the case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. Finally, de Wet paints a differentiated picture of African states estranged from the International Criminal Court through the selective referral policy of the UN Security Council and biased exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
At the end, one is left to wonder what this ‘intertwined relationship’ between history and international law really is. Perhaps simply, as the cover text suggests, that law is influenced by political events and vice-versa: ‘There is a deep and multifaceted relationship between international law and history – political events have legal implications, and international norms and institutions may influence the course of history.’ This insight is not necessarily an innovation. But the individual chapters of this volume provide fascinating examples and food for thought in their respective contexts.
1 See Markus P. Beham, Review of Bardo Fassbender / Anne Peters (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law, Oxford 2012; some additions to the Review by Ralph Janik, Review of Bardo Fassbender / Anne Peters (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law, in: Austrian Review of International and European Law 18 (2013), pp. 392–395, here pp. 393–394; id., Review of Bardo Fassbender / Anne Peters (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law, in: Südost-Forschungen 74 (2015), pp. 213–215, here p. 214.
2 Peter Hilpold, Review of Annalisa Ciampi (ed.), History and International Law. An Intertwined Relationship, Cheltenham 2019, in: Europa Ethnica 77/1/2 (2020), pp. 90–91, here p. 90.
3 History and international law: an intertwined relationship, <https://www.dsg.univr.it/?ent=iniziativa&convegno=1&id=7847;id=7847> (last accessed 15.6.2021).
4 The 4th Geneva Convention’s Drafting History as the origin of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Duty to Prevent (D2P), 16.6.2017 <https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/701275/de> (last accessed 15.6.2021).