UCL Faculty of Laws


Hybrid | Atrocity's Glass Booth

12 October 2023, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm

Image of shattering glass

This lecture will be delivered by Professor Neha Jain, as part of the Current Legal Problems Lecture Series 2023-24

Event Information

Open to



UCL Laws

Speaker: Professor Neha Jain (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law)

Chair: Professor Philippe Sands KC (UCL Laws)

About the lecture

Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is reportedly said to have asked, “wouldn’t you be happier if I had been able to show you that all the perpetrators were crazy?” This talk excavates the practices and scripts of mass atrocity trials to argue that they are driven by a similar impulse to construct deviant perpetrator portraits. Perpetrators who enter into atrocity’s glass booth are transformed into defendants who are hostis humani generis. Perpetrators who escape this mythification are still viewed as perpetual perpetrators, the moment of their participation in atrocity radiating backwards and forwards to demarcate the juridical bookends of their lives. These lives, moreover, are not seen as complex moral existences lived under situations of violent upheaval and chronic conflict, but as consisting of active choices representing uncompromised agency. Instead of acknowledging and narrating a diversity of perpetrator motivations and experiences, why have international criminal trials been tempted to favour flat perpetrator stereotypes? The talk argues that this construction and diffusion of perpetrators portraits is intimately tied to international criminal law’s attempt to justify itself as a normative project that claims to act in the name of humanity. The talk concludes that though its aims can only ever be imperfectly realised, international criminal law’s best hope for achieving them is through a different set of narratives that engage with the sober reality of mass atrocity. This will involve viewing accused before international criminal courts not as ciphers who function as passive units for the attribution of responsibility, but as fully engaged members of the community of humanity who are answerable to, and capable of being formally reconciled with, their fellow community members.

Watch the video directly on our YouTube Channel or view it below

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About the speaker

Neha Jain is Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Faculty Fellow at the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. She is also Part Time Professor and Co-Director of the Academy of European Law at the European University Institute. Jain holds several leadership positions in international law associations. She is Vice-President of the European Society of International Law and a member of the Executive Council and Executive Committee of the American Society of International Law. She is on the editorial boards of the American Journal of International Law and European Journal of International Law and is Supervising Editor of AJIL Unbound. Jain has been a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law and a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Natolin. She has held fellowships at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for International Courts, and the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law. She has also served as a visiting professional in the Chambers Division of the International Criminal Court.

About Current Legal Problems

The Current Legal Problems (CLP) lecture series and annual volume was established over fifty five years ago at the Faculty of Laws, University College London and is recognised as a major reference point for legal scholarship.

Book your place

You can attend this event in-person at UCL Faculty of Laws (Bentham House, 4-8 Endsleigh Gardens, London WC1H 0EG) or alternatively you can join via a live stream.

Please make sure you choose the correct ticket when booking your place.

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Photo by Marcela Bolívar on Pixabay

Other events in this series