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The Failure of the International Laws of War and the Role of Art and Story-Telling as a Self-Help Remedy for Restorative Justice.

Tiefenbrun, Susan
June 4, 2015

Source: (2005) TJSL Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-15, Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Texas Wesleyan Law Review. 12(1).

This interdisciplinary study is an in-depth analysis of a book and a film, The Pianist, written by a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the Warsaw rising, in order to shed some light on the effectiveness of international laws of war and international human rights law in our global society. The study focuses attention on certain international legal principles and norms represented in literature, music, and film. The article asks what role art, music, film, and literature can play during and after the commission of wartime atrocities. Can art prevent further atrocities, assuage victims of catastrophic events, inspire the collective conscience of perpetrators, and protect victims from the reality of pain caused by war and the failure to enforce international laws of armed combat? Can art offer a form of self-help remedy to the victims of massive violence and atrocities without offering retribution to the perpetrator or revenge to the victim?

This article investigates the power of art to transcend the ugliness and brutality that war provokes, especially if the combatants and other actors refuse to play by the internationally accepted rules of war. Recognizing through past experience that art cannot prevent atrocities, this article re-examines art’s power of effective communication, education, and edification. Is the widespread dissemination of information through artistic media about wartime brutality and futility able to constitute a long-term preventive or palliative measure against the further commission of genocide, war crimes, and human rights violations? International human rights violations and war crimes are being committed today and are increasing in number and degree of atrocity, despite the peace-loving nature of our global society. These crimes may be reduced by the interplay of the traditional retributive form of justice that does not and should not tolerate the impunity of perpetrators and a new form of restorative justice that emphasizes the personhood of the victim through language and expression. (author’s abstract)


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