Mikkel Christensen is an assistant professor at the Centre of Excellence for International Courts at the University of Copenhagen (iCourts). His research focuses on legal sociology, sociology of elites and international prosecution. He’s currently researching the dynamics of the international justice world.
“I think of justice as a contentious term. For me, justice is something which a wide array of stakeholders are struggling and battling to define. I don’t have a more philosophical or substantial idea of what justice is. Justice is something which, since the 1990s, has increasingly become the centre of attention for a lot of agents, institutions and countries that are trying to define what justice is in their own terms.
“I did an internship at HIA, Humanity in Action, where they train people to care about human rights. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in human rights. I work for an organisation that gives legal aid to immigrants in Denmark. So I’ve always been on the border of academia and this field, but I’ve become increasingly interested in the power dynamics that I saw in this field, of how they play out, how they frame and give direction to human rights and international justice.
“I became more and more interested in the funding issue. Where does the money come from? Who is involved in this game? Who is calling the shots? Who is dominating the discourse?
“So I moved away from being a part of it and more into the role of being analytical and trying to understand the power dynamics of this world of justice. I’ve never really been a part of international justice as such. I’ve never worked in tribunals, only in NGOs around the tribunals but not directly related. I think the main difference for me in taking the step back is the focus becomes a bit different. It is not about trying to implement a certain idea of justice, but looking at that battle, at the people trying to champion separate ideas of justice. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of this field. What I’m saying is that there’s something happening, and it has been happening since the 90s, and that’s the creation of an entirely new field of international justice.
“To understand that academically and scientifically, you need to take that step back. Because if I put all my eggs in that basket, I’ll be tied up in the dynamics that I’m actually trying to analyse. So you need to break with the self-representation of the field. You also need to break with all the concepts that are constantly floating around, concepts like what justice is, what peace and stability are. If I engage in trying to define those concepts, I’ll be part of the same thing I’m trying to analyse. As a social scientist and sociologist that can become quite a problem. That’s why I try to stay on the outside. But, of course, I’m deeply interested in what’s going on.
“There are hugely interesting things that are going on on a global scale. I follow all the cases as much as I can, but it can be difficult to maintain that distance. If that break is not there, I don’t take it seriously as a sociological phenomenon. That becomes problematic. It’s a sign of respect that I try to see it as something that has popped up in its own right, has its own power dynamics that have to be analysed to understand what is going on.
“Of course, it’s also a political phenomenon. The political boundaries of this field are the framework. But to understand how that framework becomes something, gets a direction and its own dynamic, you need to understand the players and the actors who are actually translating that larger framework into concrete actions, translating it into case law, translating it to outreach. In this field, there’s a layer between the political framework and the law that is actually left out. There are people who are trying to give it a direction, working together but also sometimes against each other to create something new in international justice.
“I’m looking at the genesis of the field, the first players. We all know their names. At one point, there were 4000 professional positions in the late 2000s in the ad hocs and the ICC. Now it seems to be winding down a bit. But there’s also a huge amount of professionals in NGOs and academia who are really a part of the stakeholders in the field. They’ve invested their careers and intellectual capabilities into creating something new. So I try to look at what you call the social structuration of this field. How you move from one little rented office in The Hague which had the first ICTY staff, to having a lot of institutions in The Hague, the ICC, the STL, the MICT, as well as a myriad of different hybrid courts that operate locally around the globe.
“I’ve done interviews in the States, Canada, Denmark, Holland and Belgium. In this sense, I also try to cover national stakeholders. I spoke to people who participated in negotiating the Rome Statute. I’ve also tried to talk to people who have been in The Hague and returned to the national arena. That is also very interesting for me. What does it take to become an international actor and how do you transfer back? A lot of people I’ve talked to have had difficulties finding their feet in the national context afterwards. That’s part of the structuration of this field as a professional world. People give their careers to this field, but what do they get out of it? Can they transfer that knowledge and expertise to other fields? Is that possible or problematic? That says a lot about the future of the field. Where do they go afterwards? I’m hoping my work will be a critical analysis of how professional and social structures have been part of the foundation of this field.”
(Photo: Niklas Jakobsson/Justice Hub)
My Justice highlights the stories of individuals who work in the field of international justice or who have been affected by it and asks what does justice mean to them.