I’ve heard this before…

ICJ President Donoghue reading the order of 16 March 2022

Today, the International Court of Justice delivered its order on the request for provisional measures in the matter of the Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation).

So we had booked a room for a campus screening of the session. We had some preliminary talks, and then watched as President Donoghue read the order.

After the reading there was silence.

There we were, me and the bright and witty international law students whom I do my best to expose to the difficulties, limitations and indeterminacies of international law; with whom we explore all the dirty secrets and frustrating shortcomings of the law of nations. I had made sure to tell them not to expect too much from the ICJ or from this case; to bear in mind that the enforcement or other real impact of any preliminary measures might be an academic question at best. And there it was now, the silence.

I knew what it was of course. I’d heard it before in courtrooms. But I cannot remember hearing much of it in the context of international law. Indeed, whoever speaks of it aloud in this field risks permanent reputational damage. Still, I’d be wrong to deny it. There it was, in that silence: the sound of law happening, of justice being done.

By now that silence has faded and the world is back on its tracks. We shall see if the newspapers will even bother taking note of the event; the war and suffering will yet go on for a while. However this all ends, we tell our students, it is unlikely to stop with a pronouncement of the court. And we shall probably be right.

But I hope they will remember that silence too.

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