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Dr Nesam McMillan
University of Melbourne, Criminology, School of Social and Political Sciences

In his opening statement as Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, Robert Jackson proclaimed that ‘the wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated’.[1]Although the discourse of civilisation is no longer widely used, Jackson’s claim that certain events and forms of harm are of broader, global significance is now commonplace. International crimes are popularly conceptualised as crimes against humanity, crimes against ‘us’ all, whilst international justice is portrayed as an enterprise undertaken on behalf of an international community. Embedded in ideas of international crime and justice are thus promises of global interconnection: that certain suffering matters and concerns ‘us’ all.

This paper focuses on these ideas of distinctly ‘international crime’ and ‘international justice’ and their ethical and relational significance. It interrogates, first, how notions of international crime and international justice are given content and, second, the ethical and relational effects such approaches – asking what ways they make it possible to relate and respond to the harms experienced by others? Ultimately, I show how dominant understandings disconnect international crime and justice from everyday life and thereby foster distance between those who have experienced international crime and those who have not. I argue for a closer attention to the cultural constructions of international crime and international justice, and their tendency to hierarchise, spectacularise and appropriate the suffering of others and legitimate new forms of punitive criminal justice justified in the name of all humanity. Such attention, I contend, is particularly important given the resemblances between these ideas of international crime and justice and colonial modes of figuring and enacting global interrelation.

Nesam McMillan is a Senior Lecturer in Global Criminology at the University of Melbourne. Her research and teaching focuses on international crime and justice, humanitarianism, structural injustice and justice and the relationship between law and social change. She is a co-founder of the Global Network on Justice. Conflict. Responsibility, a public platform for engagement between academics, government and community organisations and activists regarding justice issues in Australia and elsewhere.



[1]  Jackson’s Opening Statement for the Prosecution in ‘Second Day, Wednesday, 11/21/1945, Part 04’, in Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal(1947) vol II, at 98.

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