Heartfelt reflections

This has, unfortunately, been a week for commemorating those who have passed before us.  This week my friend and co-author, Håkan Friman, passed away suddenly.   His passing has put me in mind lately of all the other wonderful souls I have had the good fortune to encounter in this field –  Medard Rwelimara, Hans-Peter Kaul, Avril McDonald, Otto Triffterer, Christopher Hall, John Jones, Bert Swart, and many others.  Antonio Cassese stands out in particular because of both his tremendous influence on international criminal law and his kindness. 

 The passing of these friends and colleagues reminds me that international criminal law is a project with a long horizon.   Whatever the tumults and crises of the day – and these days they are many – all of this is just a moment in the current of history.  We all play our part and make our contribution, but hopefully the idea will live on for a long time to come.    The shared idea, I think, is that terrible crimes should not go unanswered, and that they are a common concern on which we should work together.  The idea will undergo refinements in the decades to come.  But I think it is as sound an idea as ever.

 I did not have the chance to work with Antonio Cassese directly, as many of my peers did.  We mostly corresponded by email.  He came across my one or two publications when I was a young diplomat and international lawyer, and he reached out to encourage me to write more.  I did, and the habit appears to have stuck.

I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to have received the Antonio Cassese prize.  My project is about the constraints of justice, such as the culpability principle, and about how ICL can help illuminate those constraints.  Because ICL presents us with extreme cases and special contexts, it can offer novel problems that make us realize new things about our underlying intuitions of justice.  Thus, it is not only that criminal law theory has something to contribute to ICL, but that ICL has something to contribute to criminal law theory. The prize was exceptionally helpful, not only in funding my part time doctoral studies on this topic at Leiden, but also helping me participate in conferences and workshops that have enriched my ideas immensely.  I have produced several articles and most of a book now as a result.  I hope my research will help shape an ICL that is effective and fair.

My final word is about one of the ways that Antonio Cassese has inspired me. Cassese’s writing always had heart.  My work with fundamental principles has brought me into areas of criminal law theory that can often be very analytical, abstract, and categorical.  Some schools of thought assert that we can logically derive the needed principles from a priori precepts.  My research so far has underscored the Cassese wisdom that we must not distrust or lose touch with sentiment.  My experience has pushed me away from foundationalist theories toward a realization that justice is a conversation.  Wisdom requires both reason and empathy.  Heart plays a role, perhaps a big role, in even our deepest principles.

Darryl Robinson (Professor at Queen’s University at Kingston in Kingston)

In the picture above, Darryl Robinson with Sylvia Cassese after the awarding of the Antonio Cassese Prize.