Spring Term Class Examined Role of International Law
Students see reminders of past battles, war atrocities and human rights abuses and visit the International Criminal Court
Alma College students in Ed Lorenz’s Spring Term class on international law may be back from their whirlwind journey through Europe, but their work has just begun.
The class explored three key areas: seeing sights of war atrocities to illustrate the role of international law, visiting places where people made a difference in international issues through innovative leadership, and meeting representatives from international institutions.
Alma students explore the Peace Park in Guernica, Spain.
In 2004, when Colin Powell asked the United Nations for support in the Iraqi War, the United States requested that the mural just outside of the room be covered. The work by Picasso, called “Guernica,” depicts the German bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica. This event in 1937 shocked the international community, as its only purpose was to terrorize civilians.
“Obviously, the concern with indiscriminate bombing remains today,” says Lorenz, Alma’s Reid-Knox Professor of History and Professor of Political Science. ”The U.S. leadership knew that the use of ‘shock and awe’ in Iraq marked a conscious rejection of international standards of warfare. Whatever the issue in 2003, Guernica remains the symbolic location of ‘crossing a line’ in the conduct of war.”
When Lorenz started discussing this story with his classes, a student raised her hand and asked, “I earned A’s in social studies. Why have I never heard of this?” And so, the Spring Term class was born.
Students started learning on campus, studying the history of international law. They traveled to Chicago, meeting with Cherif Bassiouni, Distinguished Research Professor of Law a DePaul University. Bassiouni played a lead role in developing both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“The thing that struck me the most was while we were meeting with him, he stood up and asked, ‘I made cookies. Would anyone like one?’ And this major international figure proceeded to serve us cookies,” says Lorenz. “He was so kind and gracious to us.”
The group also toured the offices of Amnesty International with Alma College alumna Laura Schairbaum ’04, a former Peace Corps member and Amnesty intern.
Once in Europe, the group visited Guernica and Valladolid, considered the site of the first debate regarding human rights. Later, in Oradour, France, students witnessed the remains of a city destroyed by the Nazis in 1944. Nazis shot men, gassed women and children in the town’s church, and burned the city. France preserved the area as a memorial and a reminder of the atrocity.
“Personally, the most poignant remnants were the remains of an infant stroller near the altar in the ruins of the church, “ Lorenz says. “The visit dramatized that the reaction to crimes against humanity in World War II created new approaches to international law.”
President Obama Highlights Bravery
In contrast to the horrors of Oradour, students traveled to Le Chambon, a small pastoral city of 5,000, which sheltered mostly Jewish refugees from the Nazis during the war. Unknown to the group at the time, President Obama highlighted the bravery of its residents in a speech only a few days prior to the students’ visit.
The group continued to the Centre d’Histoire de la Resistance et de Deportation in Lyon, which highlighted the sacrifices of French citizens in fighting fascism. From Lyon, students traveled to Geneva to visit the International Labor Organization, the World Council of Churches and the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. These organizations were created as a response to the human rights abuses of the World Wars.
Heading back to France, the group visited Verdun, the site of a battle during World War I that killed 600,000 people. This battle inspired the creation of the League of Nations.
Traveling to The Hague, the group visited the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. During the visit students were able to witness an actual trial of accused war criminal Slobodan Praljak. Students also traveled to the Asser Institute, an international law think-tank established by a consortium of Dutch universities.
From the Netherlands, the group traveled to Dresden, the German city destroyed in a firebombing during World War II. In addition to their studies, the students also attended the first performance of the annual Dresden Music Festival, held in one of the rebuilt churches.
The last major stops of the trip focused on the Holocaust. At Nuremburg, students visited the Nazi Documentation Center, which helped illustrate and explain the rise of Nazism in Germany and the Nuremburg trials. Finally, the group visited the Dachau concentration camp, the training ground for most concentration camp guards.
Students are working this academic year on their responses to the trip.
Posted: Fri, July 24th, 2009 at 1:13PM