20 Jun

[Prefatory Note: The following review of Ayça Çubukçu’s For the Love of Humanityis scheduled to appear in a forthcoming issue of the London Review of International Law.]




Ayça Çubukçu,For the Love of Humanity: The World Tribunal on Iraq, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.



Ayça Çubukçu’s For the Love of Humanity theorizes the global anti-war movement occasioned by the Iraq War of 2003 around her experience of involvement in an elaborate global initiative culminating in a tribunal established by ‘world citizens’ that held its final session in Istanbul. Beyond question, the Iraq War Tribunal (WTI) was an extraordinary undertaking from start to its finish, a worldwide non-hierarchical network of civil society activists that prior to the Istanbul finale in 2005 had organized separate tribunal sessions devoted to the Iraq War in major cities around the world including London, Seoul, Copenhagen, New York, Stockholm, several Japanese cities, Rome, Frankfurt, Genoa, Barcelona, Lisbon. Although there are many examples of prior citizen tribunalson a variety of controversial issues, none before achieved this global scale or were guided by such a grand visionary ambition.


The acknowledged inspirational origin of the WTI was the Bertrand Russell Tribunal organized in 1967 to document American criminality associated with its engagement in the Vietnam War. Relying on the prestige of the great British philosopher and his influential moral voice this innovative tribunal based its credibility on the participation of celebrity Western left intellectuals, with Jean-Paul Sartre serving as President.[1]What was most notable about the Russell Tribunal was the novel appropriation of a statist legal framework by private citizens for the purpose of conducting a comprehensive legal inquiry into the Vietnam War. The Tribunal secretariat gathered testimonies of witnesses and commentaries of experts, but based its authority to pass judgment largely on the reputation of its 24 prominent members, mostly men, including such iconic cultural figures as James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, and Peter Weiss. Among its members was Lelio Basso, a prominent Italian jurist and legislative figure who later founded the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) in Rome on the basis of this experience, which has held many comparable sessions over the intervening years on a variety of issues that governments and the UN found too hot to handle.


As Ayça Çubukçushows so brilliantly, relying on an ethnographic approach, the WTI was shaped with this background in mind, but with much more organizational self-consciousness and sense of enduring purpose that any earlier civil society initiative of this kind. WTI also featured a populist, feminist, and activist organizing strategy that was very different in style and substance than all earlier tribunal initiatives that were the work of progressive elites as facilitated by a closely knit group of organizers. Çubukçurecounts, as integral to the process, the conceptual struggles among the organizers about how to address the challenge of claiming an authority to pass legal judgement not only on the behavior of powerful sovereign states but also on the criminal culpability of their leaders. The ‘law’ framing this populist venture involved a convergence of motives, chief among which is the claim that ultimate sovereignty is located in people as a belonging to nascent polity of humanity rather than the institutions of government, whether national or international. Additionally, a justification for WTI was the widely endorsed political assumption that geopolitical leverage had paralyzed international law and the UN, allowing the overriding of Iraq’s sovereign rights causing negative impacts on global justice, world peace, and the wellbeing of Iraqi people. Relying on unattributed direct quotations of the participants at a lengthy WTI organizing session, Çubukçumakes us appreciate the clarifying fact that the organizers shared an overall hostility to the Iraq War despite their realization that the US/UK intervention had toppled a cruel dictator, guilty of many crimes against humanity. In this way the mission adopted by the WTI was to accord priority to worldwide anti-war and anti-imperial goals even granting that there were some human rights benefits resulting from the invasion and occupation of Iraq.


This policy assessment was the backdrop for a broader, fundamental, essentially jurisprudential question about the nature of the WTI as an initiative with many of the legal trappings and pretensions of a judicial proceeding yet conducted without the presence of the defendants or any prospect of enforcement. Çubukçuis attentive to this crucial issue of how to endow the WTI with legitimacy given its lack of formal authority. The Russell Tribunal was dismissed in mainstream circles as an anti-war propaganda stunt, a kangaroo court that proceeded on the basis of pre-determined conclusions that were alleged to make a mockery of the tribunal format. At the same time, the law framing of the inquiry was believed necessary to give WTI a credibility with mainstream opponents of war and the media that it could not have achieved by way of a mere political condemnation. In effect, the WTI was claiming that its proceedings provided the public with correct interpretations of international criminal law. These interpretations filled the normative vacuum created by the political failure of the current world order system to overcome the impunity of geopoliticalwrongdoers.


Considering the issue more deeply, it is well to recall that the generally affirmed war crimes tribunals after World War II (at Nuremberg and Tokyo) also went forward on the basis of pre-determined results, although the defendants were present in the courtroom, accorded partial rights of defense, and the judgment reached was enforced and the defendants punished. These tribunals did receive criticism as ‘victor’s justice,’ but mainly because of impunity, that is, the crimes of the winners (e.g. strategic bombing, atomic attacks on Hiroshima, Nagasaki) were not subject to prosecution and could not even be invoked as defenses by those accused. Çubukçudiscusses in some detail the contrast between the parallel American organized trial of Iraqi leaders held under the auspices of the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad and the subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein. Such a formalized judicial proceeding in Iraq was obviously intended to serve as a kind of vindicating ritual for the attack, yet compromised by impunity for the crimes of the US/UK attackers and occupiers, as well as by the bloody end game of the botched execution of Saddam Hussein. It was as much a show trial as anything done during the notorious Stalin period in the Soviet Union that also indulged in judicial escapades, and in terms of the quality of the legal assessment compared unfavorablyto the overall undertaking of the WTI.


What most interests Çubukçuis the challenge of using the legal scaffolding by WTI while not endowing international law with sanctity, given its historic role of upholding war and justifying imperial undertakings, including in the past European colonialism. She instructively compares the role of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo that gave a qualified endorsement to the Kosovo War with the WTI to make the point that the NATO War in 1999 set an unfortunate legal precedent for the Iraq War. In effect, international law enjoys, at best, an equivocal relationship to justice when it comes to restraining war making diplomacy of dominant states, and so should not be unconditionally affirmed.


In this sense, Cubukcu’s most provocative contribution is undoubtedly the quite original depiction of the driving force that animated the formation and operation of the WTI. In her striking formulation it was ‘the love of humanity.’ The thirst for legalism, a concern with justice per se, and building a global anti-war movement were all contributing factors, but as complements to the core motivation of ‘species love.’  This conclusion overrides, but does not invalidate the claims of the WTI to clarify the relevance of international law against geopolitical violators. The love of humanity encompasses the anti-war animus of a global movement that made use of a tribunal format so as continue activist opposition to the bellicose behavior of the United States that was hiding its imperial master plan behind a hypocritical commitment to protect human rights and promote democracy. In her view, the WTI, above and beyond all else was an expression of an emergent cosmopolitan ethos of species love that transcended national boundaries and could only be activated by the agency of the peoples of the world. It was this activation by the WTI that is for Çubukçuits greatest achievement, as well as constitutes the ultimate basis of its legitimacy.


The book ends somewhat enigmatically with a pronouncement that law and empire cannot be reliably disentangled, and for this reason law must be ‘interrogated and overturned’ in a similar progressive move that provided the stimulus to the WTI and the repudiation of the Iraq War. Instead of law, Çubukçuopts for a humanistic version of cosmopolitan populism, expressed by reference to species identity, and given a special twist by invoking the unexpected strong referent of ‘love.’ The book ends whimsically with these words: “Perhaps then, less violent and necessary may be acting for the love of humanity.” (157) We can only hope thatÇubukçu’s next ambitious book will be devoted to explicating this tantalizing sentence!


Part of what makes this book so impressive is that its radical vision is sustained and deepened by sophisticated reference to the ideas of many of the leading European political philosophers of the last hundred years and by a social science methodology that relies on an ethnographic record compiled by a participant-observer who doubles as author. This fine, memorable book possesses a theoretical and practical significance that extends well beyond the confines of the WTI experience.[2]Çubukçunot only observes, reports, philosophically comments, but she engages by taking sides. As such, she is part of a recent academic trend toward ‘partisan objectivity,’ disclosing openly the author’s point of view rather than pretending neutrality. For anyone concerned about political activism, transnational organizing, a new progressive agenda, international law, the ethics of resistance, and the post-colonial, post-Cold War world order this book is required reading.






[1]For  an account of the Russell Tribunal including a text of the proceedings see John Duffett, ed., Against the Crime of Silence (Flanders, NJ: O’Hare Books, 1968)

[2]For a comprehensive presentation of the WTI proceedings see Muge Gursoy Sokmen,World Tribunal of Iraq: Making the Case Against War(Olive Branch Press, 2008). 


  1. Beau Oolayforos June 20, 2019 at 8:06 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Your passage about “the realization that the US/UK intervention toppled a cruel dictator”…and “there were some human rights benefits from the invasion…”; this invites further discussion. Saddam Hussein was a cruel dictator that the US govt not only tolerated, but flattered, supported, and subsidized before he behaved badly by invading Kuwait. On human rights, we could go back to your prior pieces where you distinguish civil rights from economic and social rights. Free speech and the voting right seem academic to someone who is starving, freezing, and disease-ridden. Are the Iraqi people better off because of US? The question sounds ludicrous.

    Comparing the Iraqi High Tribunal to the Stalin show trials…the image of wimpy little Lindsey Graham sitting in judgment, on the other side of the world, in a devastated, raped country, in the Cradle of Civilization.. is it surreal enough?

  2. Paul Wapner June 21, 2019 at 7:13 am #

    This fine review implicitly raises an ongoing issue of this blog, viz., the relationship between idealist political vision and pragmatic politics. Despite the power of the citizens’ Iraq tribunal, the review says little about its affect. This got me thinking again about your discussion of Democratic candidates. At this point, I continue to think Elizabeth Warren would be the strongest candidate to take on Trump and would serve as the best president. But, In moments of fear, I wonder about my own assessment of electability in an age of fake news. I fear that, no matter how qualified she is, the media has already painted her so red that many will dismiss her out of hand. Knowing that the head can often be wrong, does one vote with one’s heart or head? Does one support candidates for the ‘love of the world’ or strategic effectiveness? I will continue to support Warren but the heart/head divide unnerves me. I want to see the effect of her candidacy not simply a beautiful display of progressive love. —just a morning musing from Taos

  3. Down with zionist plan 'world govedrnment' June 21, 2019 at 9:22 am #

    You are the promoter of jewish mafia ‘world government’ . YOU CANNOT FOOL ANYONE EXCEPT the Rockefeller and the ‘council on foreign relations’ who is promoting this EVIL plan. Go and get a life. You have been exposed long time ago.


    • Mike 71 June 24, 2019 at 5:35 pm #

      Professor Falk advocates for “One World Marxist Government.” Though some Jews are promoters of this inane socialist theory, most, including those in Israel, are confirmed free market economy advocates. Consider that since it founding in 1948, Israel has transitioned from a bare subsistence agricultural economy to a modern industrial and technological nation. The “Kibbutz,” or Soviet style “collective farm,” has been supplanted by “drip irrigation,” “desalinization plants” and other innovations which make that small country an agricultural and economic powerhouse. Had the nation’s socialist founders prevailed, Israel would be akin to the basket case of Venezuela in economic output. Most Israeli favor the “two-state solution” to the Middle-East Conflict, however as Palestinians see the conflict strictly as a “one to the exclusion of the other” proposition, the only means by which Israelis can maintain their rights to self-determination, territorial integrity, democratic rule and national sovereignty, is to total domination the former British Mandate.

      Jews don’t want to dominate the entire world, only a small nation about the size of New Jersey. The Palestinian approach is totally counterintuitive, precluding establishment of a nation of their own.

  4. Kata Fisher June 21, 2019 at 10:15 pm #

    Dear Proffesor Falk, issues with Iran are presented lately to be as a hot-potato. No one should involve them self in such a mess. If anyone goes agains Iran – They will regret it. It will be a grave mistake. It will be as old folks said “If you wish a wicked thing to a womb – it shall be to your own Cradle.” Wicked are very blind. They best for them have someone in human conscience sort things out for them. I personally know what Church does. The Church will swear by altar of Holy One and all things on it and will curse them in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. That’s just how it is. Who does not belive in such things – may like to laugh about it. Many cradles are damned with wicked blood lines that can’t be atoned for. Zionist projects are over – but they may like to continue at it. They shall see what will come upon them if they distrube Iran’s well-being. Not even Book of Deuteronomy will clearly explain what it will be.

  5. Gene Schulman June 22, 2019 at 12:18 am #

    Ah, poor Richard. With readers like the above vomiting up such ignorance and bile it must be difficult for you. It’s too bad they can’t share a lunch with you and hear what a mensch you are. Even the worst of them would be ashamed.

    • Richard Falk June 22, 2019 at 5:47 am #

      I try to maintain my composure, but it sure is less fun than our
      Geneva lunches!!


  6. Beau Oolayforos June 22, 2019 at 12:09 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    For my part, I thank you for suppressing my previous comment, which contained inaccuracies. Thanks, above all, for highlighting the need for supra-governmental, conscience-driven dialog on the Iraq disaster, even as the same forces, even some of the same irresponsible personalities, spoil for yet another bloodbath.

    • Richard Falk June 22, 2019 at 11:18 pm #

      If I blocked your message, it was a lucky accident! I
      am in a remote part of Italy, and have not been able to monitor
      comments very efficiently. I would, in general, never block your
      comments as they have been consistently illuminating even I was in
      a rare blocking mood!

  7. Kata Fisher June 23, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

    Gene always have such lovely words to say. To bad, I do not feel Family member or as his own child to him – which totally bans me from having the lunch with him (although, one exception: the funerals).
    Only possibility of a lunch with Gene is a furnal..
    Based on traditions of upbringing, which I am bound to keep … I could only have a glass of water, and would have to go hungry at one abundant feast. I would be fasting. I would be fasting for me?
    That should be a shame. But good for me, since shame can only be nailed to the Person, and not me. Who in the world would send a invite to a stranger – of whom they only have imaginary opinions, and know nothing about – for their launching brake.

    In covigia dialect and tradition that would be blasphemy. Gene is suggesting blasphemy to me… WTH?

    I resolve not to offend myself – and possibly Gene would need to do the same.
    If I really, really wanted to offend Gene – I would just say “there is nothing left to number on his head” – and tell a story, and a joke. This would be very disrespectful toward elderly (in covigia dialect and tradition), and he would have to resolve to dismiss me as obnoxious youth.

    • Gene Schulman June 24, 2019 at 11:50 pm #

      Well, I guess Kata’s got my number, alright. What can one say in the face of such logic?

      • Kata Fisher June 25, 2019 at 10:11 am #

        Well, already knocking on the door, with the thorn and rose jelly.

        I would hate to miss a time of a furnal.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: