The Annual Kirby Lecture on International Law - Human rights with a vengeance: one hundred years of retributive humanitarianism

Date & time
6.30–7.30pm Thursday 13 August 2015

Auditorium, Australian Centre on China in the World, Building 188, Fellows Lane, The Australian National University

Professor Gerry Simpson, The University of Melbourne


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.


Part of the Annual Kirby Lecture on International Law series

Gerry Simpson

On 12 October 1915, an English nurse, Edith Cavell was executed by the Germans in Brussels and partly as a result, there emerged an almost entirely novel way of thinking about international law. Defeated enemies became ‘war criminals’, atrocities became ‘crimes against humanity’ and (a certain sort of) war became ‘aggression’. The first half of the 20th century, then saw the appearance of a whole idiom and, then, architecture (Nuremberg, Tokyo) of what became known as international criminal law. This field (sometimes referred to also as ‘war crimes law’) began as tentative foothold (Versailles, Leipzig) but has now thoroughly colonised our thinking about war and peace (Rome, The Hague). And when it comes to human rights abuses, it is de rigueur to call for war crimes trials for the perpetrators, and justice for the victims. 

In this lecture I propose to engage in a critical stocktaking of this century of retributive humanitarianism.   

Gerry Simpson holds the Kenneth Bailey Chair of Law at Melbourne Law School, the University of Melbourne, and is currently a Soros Fellow (based in Tbilisi, Georgia). He will take up a Chair of Public International Law at London School of Economics in 2016. 

Gerry is the author of Great Powers and Outlaw States (Cambridge, 2004) and Law, War and Crime: War Crimes Trials and the Reinvention of International Law (Polity, 2007). His latest book, The Margins of International Law (a collection of his essays), will be published by Cameron and May this year. Gerry currently is writing about the literary life of international law; an exploratory essay – The Sentimental Life of International Law –  has just been published in the London Review of International Law.

The Annual Kirby Lecture on International Law is an initiative of the Centre for International and Public Law, established to recognise The Hon Michael Kirby, AC CMG’s long passion and service to International Law.


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