The introduction sets out the book's key aims: first, to chart how the ideas of distinctly international crime and international justice are given content; and second, to interrogate the ethical and relational effects of current understandings. I highlight the ethical potential of notions of international crime and justice, which are associated with a vivid imagery of a common humanity that is injured by international crime and responsible for its redress. However, I also place such humanitarian sentiments in a broader historical trajectory, noting how ideas of a shared humanity were also used to legitimate the discriminatory international project of colonialism. Hence, the book focuses on interrogating exactly how international crime and justice are given content in socio-legal representation. I briefly describe my understanding of international crime and justice as cultural constructs whose meaning is determined through representation and provide a summary of key arguments and a chapter overview.
This chapter demonstrates the importance of the ideas of international crime and justice, which are embedded in a vivid discursive regime—framed as crimes against humanity as a whole and belonging to a different social and legal order, compared to their national counterparts. I argue that such representations of international crime and justice are both central to the project of international justice and importantly productive, serving to imagine a new socio-legal sphere in which crime is committed, defendants are prosecuted, and justice is dispensed. Notions of international crime and justice are thus argued to have ethical possibilities—connecting people across the world through a shared repudiation of atrocity. Yet I caution that the humanitarian promise of these ideas also depends upon the specific ways in which they are given content. I discuss the ethical limits of pursuing global community through the framework of law and the image of crime.
Through an analysis of the international response to the Rwandan genocide, Chapter 2 demonstrates the ethical limits and potentials of internationalization. I trace the post hoc construction of the Rwandan genocide as an internationally significant event, a key moment in global legal, political, and social history. I argue that the genocide emerged as an international event through its portrayal as a moment of failed Western and international responsibility that illustrates what a global non-Rwandan "us" should do when confronted with African suffering. In this case, then, internationalization constitutes an appropriative move, in which the event became international through an emphasis on its implications for others elsewhere.
Chapter 3 analyzes how the idea of international crime is given content. Focusing on the debates of the International Law Commission in its attempt to formulate a draft criminal code, I show how the commission linked internationality to a sense of (higher) scale—framing international crime as more important than other crime and as the most serious harm; as large-scale, mass harm; and as harm that affects generalized subjectivities and states (humanity and global peace and security). I argue that such a scalar approach distances external parties from the lived experiences of injury and perpetration, which are portrayed as exceptional and extreme. It also involves a "zooming out" in which the focus shifts from specific peoples and communities to more abstract notions of humanity as a whole.
Chapter 4 analyzes dominant understandings of international criminal justice. Through a focus on representations of the first permanent International Criminal Court, I demonstrate how the court is figured as culturally, politically, and geographically transcendent by contrasting it with images of a more politicized and contextualized national and local. Using the work of Peter Fitzpatrick, I argue that this ideal of international criminal justice is mythical, relying on an intentional disregard for the way in which the court is located, political, and connected to the national, as well as being a distinctive legal institution. Drawing on postcolonial theory, I then ground the court by highlighting its particularity and locatedness.
Based on the book's analysis, the conclusion argues that there are significant, perhaps insurmountable, problems with the ideas of international crime and justice. Although they are imbued with humanitarian promise, these ideas can create relational distance between people who have experienced international crime and those who have not. They spectacularize, hierarchize, and appropriate the suffering of others and promote an ideal of justice that is fundamentally disconnected from the everyday. I contend here that they also figure internationality and international interconnections in ways that resemble past colonial approaches. Given that these problematic tendencies relate to both the content and the contemporary valorization of ideas of international crime and justice, I offer a fundamental critique of both. The aim of this critique is to raise the possibility of alternative ontologies of international engagement that might be more respectful of specificity and grounded in the lived and the everyday.