Why does international law matter? Well, here’s one of the myriad reasons.
Earlier this month, I listened to an incredibly brave woman tell her story. She’s young, only 21. Yet, her hardened, distant look and silent expression are those of a woman who has experienced horrors and seen demons far beyond those a young woman should ever have to know. She’s been through hell.
Her name is Nadia Murad Basee Taha. Maybe you’ve heard of her? She’s a Yazidi from Iraqi Kurdistan. In August 2014, Nadia’s world was completely shattered. ISIS invaded her home and tore her family apart. They killed most of her brothers. They killed her mother; she wasn’t ripe enough for their pleasure.
The Yazidis are a small minority group in Iraq who don’t practice Islam. ISIS believes that such individuals are “infidels” and have set out to exterminate them. Stuck in captivity and forced into sexual slavery, Nadia and others like her were traded and sold amongst ISIS military like baseball cards – sent home with the next man who acquired her.
Her first attempt at escape resulted in punishment. She was gang raped until she was unconscious.
After three months of being at the mercy of ISIS, Nadia escaped.
Her story isn’t new to me. ISIS isn’t new to me. I’ve read about it and watched it on the news. But this was different. Hearing her brought forward a reality. I listened to this courageous woman re-traumatize herself as she recounted the terrors she’s been through; the heaviness in her heart from her abuse and losses was palpable.
I watched her as she tried to hold it together. I cried with her. I felt her anger. My heart broke for her. You can tell that it’s still so fresh; for her it was as though it only happened yesterday.
Every day we come across headlines calling to attention the horrors happening at home and abroad. But many simply give them a cursory glance and continue about their day without a second thought. It’s so easy to not care when it doesn’t affect you. But, regardless of whether it has any impact on you, these things continue to happen every single day. They happen to people who don’t deserve it, to those who never asked for it. It happens to the child coming home from school, the mother on her way to work, the young man waking up in the morning – it happens, and it’s happening right now.
This isn’t specific to just the Yazidis or ISIS. There’s the civil war in Syria, the refugee crisis in Europe, the indoctrination of child soldiers in Uganda, the increasing violence in the Congo, human trafficking in the Ukraine and Cambodia, etc., etc., etc.
It’s incredibly alarming and profoundly overwhelming. However, it’s not our problem, because the international community can handle it.
But that’s the thing, WE ARE THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.
International law was founded on the idea of good faith and friendly relations between states. It promotes unity and provides help to those in need. International law, in conjunction with today’s technology provides us a universal stage. As our dependence on technology increases, the size of our world decreases, and the breadth of international law stretches farther.
No matter what you engage in – law, politics, medicine, or business – there will always be a global component. It’s a wonderful time we live in, where we can access the world with the touch of a button. Because we are put in such close proximity to every part of the world, I believe it is imperative for us, as law students and legal professionals, to have, at minimum, a foundational understanding of international law and its different branches.
As prospective lawyers, we are in a unique position to incite changes. We have the ability to call to attention problematic areas in the basic rules that govern our relations and demand redress from states and individuals. International law provides a greater understanding of world politics and aims to create an appreciation for the multitude of cultures inhabiting our world.
Lastly, and the best part, it opens avenues in which legal solutions to common problems may be developed through collaboration and exchanges with brilliant legal minds from all over the world!
I make this statement with great fondness, because I can personally attest to it. Interning at the International Bar Association in London, UK, has introduced me to individuals from different parts of the globe, each with his or her own set of experiences and outlook. These distinctive perspectives provide creative solutions, policies, propositions, and generate awareness.
Nadia’s story is just one of millions. There are people all over the world waiting for someone to acknowledge their pain and suffering. And, yes, it is true that we have our own demons to fight in our country, but we also need to recognize that somewhere else, at this very moment, people are being displaced, detained, disappeared, tortured, murdered, or worse, because their government – intentionally or unintentionally – has failed to protect them.
These individuals need to know that the world hears them and is acting to provide a solution. As individuals studying the law, we know fully well that we are entitled to certain fundamental rights. Every day there are thousands who are having those rights forcefully ripped away from them.
What can we, as legal professionals, do about it?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security.” Shouldn’t we make it our responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to preserve those rights?