Lecture by Prof Phillippe Sands at Southampton University
It was a pleasure to attend the annual lecture organised by the Romsey and Southampton Amnesty group given by Phillippe Sands (the link is to several of his articles). It was based on his book East West Street concerning in part the city of Lviv which was known at Lemberg in the nineteenth century and was also known as Lwów. Under the Soviets it was called Lvov. Its importance in his story was that two people came from the town who were very influential in the post-war developments of human rights.
First was Hersch Lauterpacht who was born just north of Lemberg and moved there in 1911, and the second was Rafael Lemkin who was born in Ozerisko and moved to Lemberg in 1900. They both worked behind the scenes during the Nuremberg trials. But their claims to fame are that Lauterpacht was instrumental in getting the world to agree the need for action on crimes against humanity and Lemkin on the concept of genocide. It is surprising that these two concepts are fairly recent and both date from 1945: one assumes they have been around for a lot longer. But that they both emanate from two men from the same town in east Poland is even more remarkable. Despite this and despite the fact they worked in the same field, they never met as far as is known.
Lauterpacht it was who wrote the International Bill of the Rights of Man which invoked Churchill’s commitment to the ‘enthronement of the rights of man.’ His book was key in the development of the UN declaration.
Sands discussed the arguments concerning whether ‘genocide’ should be included and in
the early years it was sometimes in and sometimes dropped. It met resistance because of legal doubts. Lemkin was keen to introduce this as a crime largely because of the German’s crimes in the war an in particular the activities of Hans Frank who oversaw the slaughter in his former town and Poland generally. Frank was hanged after the Nuremberg trials.
He finished his lecture by discussing briefly, the current state of affairs with regard to human rights. He expressed an ‘acute sense of anxiety at what stirs in our midst’ referring part to the far right groups in eastern Europe especially as they suffered so much under the Nazis.
He said he had a ‘sense of going backwards’ with our own politicians wanting to come out of the European convention which he thought was ‘unbelievable’. The platitudes of many of the current politicians seems to reflect a lack of knowledge of post-war events.
East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (£20).
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