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Statement by Professor CHEN Yifeng

Welcome to the book launch at the Law School of Peking University. I am entrusted by Professor LI Ming to congratulate on the occasion of the publication of ‘Historical Origins of International Criminal Law’ (‘HOICL’) Volumes 3 and 4 on behalf of the Institute of International Law. We would also like to pay tribute to the editors, Professor Morten Bergsmo, Professor CHEAH Wui Ling, Ms. SONG Tianying and Professor YI Ping, and congratulate all the authors including Professor LING Yan who is here with us today.

The publication of all four volumes of ‘Historical Origins of International Criminal Law’ is the result of close co-operation between Asian and European academics. The works of more than 100 Asian and European scholars, among them around 10 Chinese authors, were included. As the first research project on the history of international criminal law, these four volumes have important academic value.

First, the HOICL volumes emphasize diversity, incorporating cross-culture, cross-civilization perspectives, and uncover non-western history, experience and wisdom in international criminal law, in an attempt to overcome the Eurocentric tendency in research in this area. Certainly, the rapid development of international criminal law after the Cold War owes much to the initiative and support of Western countries; the idea of achieving international criminal justice through public trials was forged under the deep influence of Western legal culture – Western scholars have contributed much wisdom to the discipline. Nevertheless, we should emphasize diversity and consider dialogues on and understanding of criminal policy and practice in different civilizations.

Secondly, the HOICL volumes seek to go beyond institution-centrism in current international criminal law research, integrate aspects of history, theory, society, culture, national experience, and combine disciplines of history, anthropology, international relations, criminal policy and international criminal law. The prosperity of international criminal law the last two decades is closely linked to the establishment and expansion of international criminal jurisdictions. Unsurprisingly, much research in this area focuses on the statutes and case law of these institutions. Such an institution-centred approach results in the weakness of international criminal law’s theoretical structure – quite some research initiatives appear to be superficial. The study of international criminal law’s history in the HOICL volumes may enrich the theoretical basis of the discipline, diversify the methodology – it therefore has more theoretical depth.

Thirdly, the HOICL volumes emphasize self-criticism and self-reflection, and avoid an oversimplified understanding of international criminal law as unidirectional, linear, progressive rhetoric. We need to recognize the culture, politics and ideology behind the development of international criminal law, and face the North-South political economy in the practice of this area.

Fourthly, these four volumes are particularly meaningful to the discipline of international criminal law. The establishment of international criminal law as a branch of international law, to some extent even as an independent research discipline, is rather recent. The historic study may uncover rich materials for this discipline. Meanwhile, inquiring about the historical origins is also to explore the purpose, positioning and boundary of the discipline. In this sense, these four volumes provide a rare opportunity for international criminal law scholars to reflect upon the discipline itself.

Fifthly, the volumes pay attention to Chinese experience. The volumes include five chapters written by Chinese authors and four chapters on Chinese experience written by non-Chinese authors. These chapters explore issues such as international humanitarian law practice in ancient China, Confucianism and international criminal law, and trial of Japanese war criminals in post-World War II China. Such writing enriches the Chinese academics’ knowledge and understanding of international criminal law, and may contribute to the research and teaching of international criminal law in China.

On this occasion of the publication of HOICL Volumes 3 and 4, I would also like to share my limited personal understanding of international criminal law research. Firstly, international criminal law is not a cause where “more is better”. Criminal punishment itself is an evil, albeit a necessary evil. At the international level, the cost of criminal justice is astronomical. International criminal law has more a symbolic, deterrent existence. Besides, we should also recognize the root problems of history, politics, economy and religion in the prevention and punishment of international crimes. We should stay vigilant against international criminal law becoming victor’s justice or a tool for powerful nations (that is, impunity for the victors, legislation by the powerful) – power exceptionalism in the system of international criminal law.

Secondly, the goal of studying international criminal law’s history is not to prove the correctness, richness, long tradition of the discipline, but rather to elaborate human society’s attempt to use criminal justice mechanisms to solve cross-border, inter-state problems. As such, it is a reaction to violence and an attempt to construct order and justice. It is a process where the international community constantly defines, constructs, and defends core values and makes decisions. Such a process calls for meaningful participation of both Chinese and Western scholars, their candid communications, and concerted efforts.

Since its establishment in 1983, the International Law Institute of Peking University has consistently promoted the dissemination and development of international law in China, conducted research on the theory and practice of international law, cultivated experts of international law, and fostered domestic and international academic exchanges. The Institute’s research areas include the theory of international law, international human rights law, law of the sea, law of international organizations, international environment law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law, and it has published extensively on these subjects. In the area of international criminal law, I hope we will have further opportunities to deepen communication and strengthen co-operation with all of you.

Once again, our congratulations on the publication of HOICL Volumes 3 and 4, and to the editors and authors.

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