(Post)Colonial Injustice and Legal Interventions

Curatorial statement

By Wolfgang Kaleck and Karina Theurer

The development of international law is closely interwoven with the colonialism driven by Europe: with globalised exploitation, seizure of land, racism, violence against women, genocide and destruction of the environment. In the process, the basic principles of international law, such as state sovereignty and the formal equality of states, as well as the concepts of terra nullius and the civilising mission of colonisation were interpreted in such a way that they were able to conceal colonial injustice.

The symposium (Post-)Colonial Injustice and Legal Interventions is supposed to be a resonant space for postcolonial criticism of the law. It traces how violence was made invisible and injustice was made effective law – and how this continues to be the case today. To what extent do structural and development policies reproduce the unequal distribution of resources and promote poverty and hunger? How can asymmetric trade relations be changed? Who benefits and who is affected? Which legal interventions have been successful and what can we learn from the drawbacks?

Which changes of paradigms and re-interpretations of international law are suggested from a postcolonial perspective? Bearing in mind the political power structures at play in this sphere, we will take a critical perspective, examining which human rights are successfully constructed, codified and practically enforceable and which are not. How can we help to strengthen social, economic and cultural human rights

Why is there still a wall of silence regarding the colonial crimes of the European countries? Why have no reparations been made yet? The seizure of land and the Herero and Nama genocide by the Prussian Schutztruppe (colonial troops in the African territories), and the systematic rape and forced pregnancies of women are widely unknown in Germany. The same kind of ignorance can be found in France with regard to the torture and killings in the Maghreb only 50 years ago, or in the United Kingdom regarding the bloody suppression of the Mau Mau Uprising. In the Netherlands, relatives of people killed in Indonesia were able to claim compensation in the context of court proceedings. Can we build on their success?

Legal interventions are often most successful when accompanied by social debates and individual moments of solidarity and understanding. Besides lectures and panel discussions by international legal experts the programme of the symposium thus includes also artistic works. The jazz performance Die Verdammten dieser Erde (The wretched of the earth) by Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila, the video works by Brazilian artist Ayrson Heráclito as well as by Akademie member Marcel Odenbach open up complementary perspectives on the topics developed from the perspective of legal theory.