Lowell Ewert

The Conrad Grebel Review 25, no. 2 (Spring 2007)


The title of this article reflects the contradiction of law. On one hand, law is a core necessity for peace and justice, as it shields the less powerful from abuses by the more powerful. It accomplishes this goal by setting standards that are fairly enacted, fairly applied, and fairly enforced. Law when implemented in this way provides no reason for individuals to commit acts of violence to protect their interests. Good law is therefore an essential element for nonviolence. The world would be a far more brutal place today without it.

On the other hand, law is often horribly misused to dominate, oppress, and abuse. When unfairly enacted, unfairly applied, and unfairly enforced, law can be a sword of injustice. It can therefore have a very violent function, and it has often been used to justify brutality.

This is the dilemma of law. How can what is so good for humanity in one instance be so harmful in another? Why does law promote peace in one context, but injustice and violence in another? How can law be used to create the kind of world in which peace and justice predominate?

My Journey to Understanding Law

My wrestling with these and other troubling issues began on my last day of law school in December 1977, when one of my professors delivered a mini-lecture lasting no more than four or five minutes. The lecture was triggered by his realization that many of us in the classroom were about to graduate. This was it – his last chance to guide and influence us, and it was an opportunity he could not pass up.

“Many of you are about to graduate from law school and will soon be taking the bar exam,” my professor began. “You are probably feeling pretty good about yourselves and are very proud of your accomplishments. You were probably idealistic when you started law school about how you were going to use law to promote justice when you finished. And you probably think that your friends, family, and acquaintances are proud of you too. But let me tell you what they are thinking. As you are getting ready to start practicing law, your family, friends, and acquaintances are thinking, “You son-of-a-bitch. You’re going to become just like those other lawyers.”

When he said these words, he had our undivided attention. I, and many of my classmates, had gone to law school in significant part because of our idealism. In my journal I had recorded that I wanted to become a lawyer so I could sue multi-national corporations that abused their workers. Among the objects of my righteous indignation were the Dole Corporation (now Dole Food Company, Inc.) and United Fruit (United Brands) for their policies on working conditions for banana pickers. Several of my classmates had dreams to work for Legal Aid so they could provide legal assistance to the disenfranchised. Another eventually fulfilled his goal of working as a lawyer for labor unions where he could invest his efforts in advocating on behalf of blue-collar workers. In any event, our professor understood the powerful motivation many of us had to study law, and he appeared to be critical of it.

But then he continued – and only made things worse. After reminding us how people would view us once we became lawyers, he dropped the other shoe. “Whatever you do,” he said, “when others think you have become an SOB, don’t disappoint them. There will come a time in your practice of law,” he continued, “when you will be asked to evict a little old lady from her apartment on Christmas Eve whom you know has nowhere else to go. Your job is to do it and to make sure that she is standing on the curb, in the snow, next to her possessions, on Christmas Eve.”

I recall being outraged by our professor’s comments, and I left his class and law school that day in disgust. It wasn’t until about eight years later, after working with Mennonite Central Committee in Palestinian refugee camps in South Lebanon in 1984-85, that I finally understood what he had intended to teach us and, more important, why he was mostly right. 

Law as a Sword

It is difficult in peace and justice circles to be a passionate defender of law. Trying to be that reminds me of the fellow who gave a speech celebrating the benefits of Thanksgiving to a gathering of turkeys. The concept of being grateful for one’s blessings is seen to be sound, but implementation is viewed suspiciously. Consider how skepticism about lawyers is illustrated in jokes. (Often lawyers don’t think the jokes are very funny, and most non-lawyers don’t believe they are actually jokes!) Did you hear the one about the lawyer who prepared for a major speech by getting a good night’s sleep the night before? She slept just like any lawyer would – first lying on one side, and then on the other. The subtle humor reflects a deeply held suspicion that lawyers serve themselves first, and their clients and the cause of law, second.

Law as we know it has been a great source of violence, injustice, and oppression. Violence has been defined by noted peace scholar Johan Galtung as taking three forms: direct, structural, or cultural.1 Direct violence, according to Galtung, is the actual event that causes the immediate harm. War, assaults, or battery on the person are the most common examples of direct violence.

Structural violence, he explains, is exploitation that is legitimized and deemed acceptable by society. Structural violence is inherent in the systems that are set in place to maintain a social order but violate human dignity. This violation may result from rigging the rules so the poor remain in abject poverty; ensuring that jobs, or at least good paying jobs, are not available in certain areas or to certain people; or making it likely that the privileged are entitled to better health care than the poor.

The “Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance”2 adopted by the City of Hazleton, Pennsylvania in July 2006 is an example of structural violence that seems to make logical sense until more thoroughly analyzed. This Act punishes businesses that employ, and landlords who rent to, illegal immigrants. While on the surface this may appear to be an appropriate ordinance needed to protect the city from illegal Mexican workers, the impact has been shown to sow the seed of discrimination against other Hispanics. Employers were found to be afraid to hire someone who might turn out to be illegal, and landlords were reluctant to rent to someone who might be illegal.3 As a result, minority groups, legal or not, were subjected to harsher living and working conditions. This result occurred because of a law duly enacted and enforced.

But structural violence is often possible only because of cultural assumptions that provide the groundwork sustaining oppressive structural presuppositions. This “cultural violence,” as Galtung defines it, operates to provide the justification for direct or structural violence. It explains and legitimizes these other forms of violence. It provides what on the face seems to be a perfectly understandable reason why violence is justified. “Cultural violence makes direct and structural violence look, even feel, right – or at least not wrong.”4 Cultural violence can rationalize what the town of Hazleton did, by arguing that the town was “being ruined by violent crime, crowded schools and a clogged emergency room at the city’s private hospital,” all attributed significantly to the actions of illegal immigrants.5 This claim can be made even though the town’s mayor at trial could not name a “single instance where illegal immigrants had received services from Hazleton’s fire department or health officer.”6 It was further found that of the 8,575 felonies committed in the city since 2000 “about 20 were linked to illegal immigrants.”7 Yet, the taint of the assumption that illegal immigrants are the cause of many of the town’s problems sticks, despite facts to the contrary. Almost anything can be rationalized culturally because it often makes at least some sense as part of rational discourse. This leads to a disturbing conclusion about how law is used, since at least two of these three forms of violence, structural and cultural violence, are often enshrined in, or protected by, law.

A few examples of how law has been used to justify outrageous abuses will give context to the scale and scope of the problem. In U.S. history:

  • In an attempt to regulate thought and belief, in the Colonial U.S. the Quakers were banned from Massachusetts Bay in 1658. Two years later, for refusing either to go away or to stop being a Quaker, rebellious Mary Dyer was hanged on June 1, 1660. Her crime? Being a Quaker.8
  • The displacement of aboriginals, and wholesale murder and confiscation of their land, was mostly legal under domestic U.S. law.
  • Discrimination against persons of African descent held as slaves became not just something that rogue colonies promoted in pre-Colonial times but was subsequently enshrined in the bedrock foundational principle of the U.S. – its Constitution.9

While it is easy to mock our Southern neighbors, Canada is not blameless.

  • Aboriginal Canadians continue to contest how they have been treated, citing residential schools, lack of services such as clean water on reserves, and disputes over land titles. The original inhabitants of this land have paid a terrible price for law.
  • The Provincial Elections Act of British Columbia in 1895 stated that “No Chinaman, Japanese or Indian shall have his name placed on the Register of Voters for any Electoral District.”10 The fine was $50 and up to a month in prison for anyone who registered a prohibited person. This prohibition applied not only to immigrants but to Canadian citizens of this ancestry. The provision was not revoked until the late 1940s.
  • Emily Ferguson Murphy, born in Cookstown, Ontario, exemplified the challenge women faced in the early twentieth century, when on the first day she presided in court as a judge in 1916, a lawyer representing an alleged criminal objected to her being the judge because the law said only “qualified persons” could be judges. As a woman, Emily was not considered to be a person and therefore not qualified to be a judge.11 The Canadian Supreme Court, after several weeks of argument and legal wrangling, subsequently agreed with her detractors and confirmed that women were not persons. I can only imagine the dinner conversations the judges had at home on the night of this shocking ruling. It wasn’t until October 18, 1929 when the Privy Council intervened and ruled that “Canadian women were indeed persons.”12

Internationally, abuse by law has no better track record.

  • The genocide committed by Nazi Germany was mostly legal under German law, and according to most written international law in effect at the time.
  • Apartheid in South Africa was established by law.
  • Saddam Hussein claimed at his trial in Baghdad in 2006 that his order mandating the execution of 148 persons in response to an attempted assassination on his life was lawful.
  • During the Summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israeli military dropped cluster bombs on 770 sites in South Lebanon, 90 percent of which fell during the last three days of the conflict. It is estimated that four million bomblets, which have about a 30-40 percent failure rate, were dropped. Six months later, the tiny bomblets when accidentally disturbed continued to kill or injure an average of three people per day.13 What was the rationale of the Israeli military for dropping cluster bombs despite this action advancing no real military objective? “All the weapons and munitions used by the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] are legal under international law and their use conforms with international standards,” Israeli spokespersons have said.14
  • What about the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq? Ask President Bush and he’ll tell you – it was lawful. And the treatment of Iraqi prisoners? Well, you might have a point there, President Bush will admit; prisoner maltreatment in Abu Ghraib may have gotten a little out of hand, but only because of the actions of a few bad soldiers who exceeded their authority. However, just to make sure there was no confusion about how terror suspects can be treated, the U.S. redefined torture to be physical pain equivalent to “serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”15 According to this view, any abusive interrogation technique that falls short of reaching this high bar of maltreatment, no matter how painful or traumatizing, is lawful.

Why is it so Hard to “Get Law Right”?

If we want law to be a shield to protect, instead of a sword to oppress or inflict violence, why is it so hard to get it right? Why is there so much abuse by law? Why don’t good intentions give us the result we hope for? Before we try to answer these questions, it is important to reflect briefly on two overarching principles that help contextualize what law is.

First, law should properly be regarded as history, in that it arises from a nation’s story. It is never static; it is always ongoing. Oliver Wendell Holmes, appointed in 1902 to the U.S. Supreme Court where he would serve for 30 years, wrote in 1881 that “the law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics.”16 Law should thus be viewed as a living social system that is constantly evolving as it reflects new socio-political realities. It is also true, as Ambrosius Macrobius stated, that “good laws have their origins in bad morals”17 as states and social systems attempt to adjust to the challenges and problems confronting them. This evolutionary process is especially obvious in common law jurisdictions, such as the U.S. and Canada, where law continually adapts to reflect changing social norms and by doing so simultaneously changes these values. What this means is that there are few immutable laws. Therefore, to understand a nation’s laws, study its history; and to understand its history, study its laws.

Second, law not only reflects a nation’s story or narrative but also articulates its worldview. German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler wrote in 1922 that every legal system “contains in concentrated form the worldview of its creators.”18 According to this perspective, law is not just a backward look at history but also a forward look at the future, the world to be created.

Law as a worldview is best illustrated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone of the international human rights movement, which was adopted on December 10, 1948. This watershed moment of historic proportions overturned long-held notions of state sovereignty almost overnight as nations declared, though none really meant it, that there were limits to state power. The idea that unexpectedly grew from this tiny seed of human rights has, in my opinion, led to more changes in international law in the last six decades than in the previous six centuries. The motivation for drafting the Declaration was stated clearly in its Preamble. Peace is the overarching goal of the international community, and it can be achieved, says the Preamble, if human rights are respected and national sovereignty is limited [paraphrased].19

What these two principles suggest is that we can view law as either history or expectation. With respect to the former, it should come as no surprise that law has often been regarded as a “mirror” reflecting society and its values. Examples are the “Mirror of the Saxons” published in 1220- 35; “Mirror of the Germans” (1260); “Mirror of Swabians” (1270-80); “Layman’s Mirror” (1510); and Justin Gobler’s “Mirror of Laws” (1550).20 And let’s not forget the “Martyrs Mirror” that tells the Anabaptists’ story while at the same time painting a picture of how to live in the future.

The mirror analogy best explains why it is so hard to get law right even if one has the best of intentions. Law is created and applied in a context of holding the mirror in front of us to see what is behind in order to guide our path forward. It is like looking backwards while trying to move ahead. Try driving your car forward using only your rearview mirrors to predict where the road is in front of you. It can be done, but it can’t be done easily, well, or quickly. It works best if no other cars are on the road, if the road direction is completely predictable, and if any other cars that do appear on the road stay on their side and follow all the rules. But accidents are inevitable. Adjustments will have to be made. People will be injured as society tries to navigate blindly in this gap between what can be seen in the rearview mirror and where the car is actually positioned on the road. To a certain extent, this means that law is almost always out of context, as the present need for law and the historical experience on which it is based do not perfectly line up.

Law as a Shield: A Way Forward

How do we reconcile backward-looking but forward-directing law? What is the national narrative or mirror that we want to hold up? I suggest that when we think of law, we remember the following:

1. There is “hope” in law, even though law often fails. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins by stating clearly and unapologetically that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”21 Can you be more visionary than that? Is there any person of peace for whom this is not an inspiration? Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has elaborated on this opening salvo in the Declaration by stating that human rights “are the principles by which we create the sacred home for human dignity.”22 This is amazing stuff. To advance this vision, the United Nations was created to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”23 While law has often failed, the foundational principles have been articulated and a starting point has been identified.

2. It is impossible to have peace without law. The alternative to law is the chaos we see in Baghdad. We need law that functions as an operating system to manage how differing individuals, groups, and nations will inter-relate without violence. While some may argue that we can have peace through informal community, this does not address how different or competing individuals, groups, or nations can peacefully co-exist. We need good law for peace. As peacemakers, we cannot ignore the positive role law can play in promoting peace by establishing the rules of the game.

3. Law is important even when violated or ignored. Just as we don’t say that the law prohibiting murder is irrelevant because some people continue to commit murder, so we should not denigrate law just because it is abused. Law reinforces a standard even when ignored, and it can inspire and motivate individuals to try to change society even when deliberately violated by the powerful.

In late 2006, Father Carl Kabat, a 73-year-old Catholic priest, and two colleagues were sentenced to prison for 8 to 15 months. Dressed up as clowns, they had broken into an Echo 9 launch site in North Dakota housing a Minuteman nuclear missile and poured blood on the site. The judge who sentenced them refused to hear arguments that their protest was designed to enforce international law.

At their sentencing, Father Kabat, who has cumulatively spent 16 years in prison for peace protests, addressed the judge and prosecutor. “I believe that you, brother judge and brother prosecutor, know that the Minuteman II … is insane, immoral and illegal, but your actions protected that insanity, that immorality and illegality,” he said in his act of witness. “Brother judge, you could have possibly been a Rosa Parks, but your actions said ‘no.’”24 Because these three protestors were convicted, does this mean that law is irrelevant?

In another case, Irish courts reached the opposite conclusion, invoking international law to acquit protestors who started to occupy the runway at Shannon International airport so U.S. jets could not stop there on the way to bomb Iraq. In this court, an appeal to international law was successful.25 So, is international law relevant or irrelevant? What “precedent” has been set by cases like these two?

4. Just because someone claims an act is lawful does not mean it is. Law does not evolve in a straight line, or logically or inexorably in a positive direction. Its evolution is far more complex and chaotic. It is an ongoing experiment that is tried and tested, amended when problems arise, and discarded when not redeemable. Saddam Hussein and the court that convicted him reached opposite conclusions about the lawfulness of executions. President Bush and many other world leaders reached opposite conclusions about the legality of the Iraq war, the war on terror, and torture. A North Dakota Court and an Irish Court reached opposite conclusions about the legitimacy of peaceful protest. Let’s not get disheartened by these contradictions, but rather position law in the big picture and understand how it is evolving and changing. The experiment isn’t arriving at perfect results, but it also isn’t over yet.

5. Law is a tool that peacemakers can use to promote peace. Law is in fact a handbook of peace. It should therefore occupy a prominent place in peace studies programs sponsored by colleges and universities such as the program located at Conrad Grebel University College. What fascinates me is how little a role law plays in almost all peace studies curricula. It is a blind spot. This omission is akin to offering a twentieth-century European history program while overlooking almost any reference to World Wars One and Two. Most peace studies programs do not address business law, tax law, domestic relations law, torts, the law of war and the law of peace, or international law to any significant extent. Criminal law is often referred to in restorative justice courses in a way that makes it only a less attractive alternative. While law is imperfect, it needs to be studied, examined, and empowered to better fulfill its mandate of promoting a more peaceable and just world. It must be challenged and continually redeemed because, as stated earlier, without law violence is inevitable.

6. Laws are not an end in themselves. Laws are designed to advance a vision of the future and to mirror a particular aspect of a worldview. Solely to focus on what is prohibited is thus shortsighted, equivalent to assuming that a tree comprises only what is visible above ground, or that a skyscraper begins at ground level and stretches upwards from there. Half of every tree, the roots, is not seen. The most important part of any building, the foundation, is often ignored by those occupying it. Without the invisible substructures supporting the visible structure, trees could not grow and buildings that mark the skyline of major cities could not stand. The question of law is then not simply, What is lawful and what are the penalties for violations? Rather it becomes, What is the social policy being advanced, and how does a particular legislative act or treaty reflect that policy? Earl Warren, a former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, described this matter best when he said, “it is the spirit and not the form of the law that keeps justice alive.”26 It is important to remember that law is primarily designed to advance a worldview, not simply to prohibit one.

7. Law sets a minimal standard, not a maximum one. Law does not assume that what it mandates is everything that should be done. Law alone has never, can never, and will never create a perfect society in which all human needs are met and all human conflicts are happily resolved. Assuming that law should play the role of creating a perfect world is ludicrous. At the end of the day, law merely sets minimal conditions that make it possible for people of conscience to create the kind of world that is just and full of rich and vibrant relationships.

The necessary co-dependence of law with something else can be illustrated by the analogy of a house with a floor, walls, roof, windows, and doors. What a house can do very effectively, and better than a temporary or easily adaptable and changeable structure (such as a tent that can be set up, taken down, expanded, contracted, and moved relatively quickly), is protect the occupants from the driving winds of hate, the burning sun of persecution, the cold hail and snow of discrimination, and the terror of being physically attacked by abusive and invasive powers.

What this figurative house cannot do, however, is to make its occupants appreciate each other, want to form community together, genuinely respect or love each other, or pro-actively nurture the human spirit and empower each other to genuinely thrive. Yet without the structure that the house provides, human interaction will be fraught with hardship, overwhelming injustice, and terror. Law, then, mandates basic and minimal rules of civil behavior. However, without the “space” inside the house where the values of humanity can be practiced, life will be cold, impersonal, and not fully realized. While law is incapable of ensuring individuals will personify these relational values that give life meaning, law makes it more likely that these values will be manifested. Just as law mirrors the norms of society, it also precipitates changes in these norms. When people voluntarily obey new norms that affirm the dignity and worth of all, the ripple effect is often that society begins accepting the underlying values themselves.

8. Law complements, and need not supplant or override, the transformative values that people of faith attempt to live out. Law is not the Kingdom of God on earth. But it also does not prohibit mediation, restorative justice, and peace-building between individuals. Instead, by providing some very rough guidelines, law creates a structure enabling us to interact with each other through transformative mechanisms or negotiation, mediation, and restorative justice.

9. Law can help keep our analysis of conflict situations more honest. Distorted understandings of law have led peace groups at times to unwittingly undermine peace and justify killing and destruction. When NATO bombed Serbia in 1999, some peace activists and peace groups issued statements implying or asserting that this bombing was the cause of the humanitarian crisis that followed. Before NATO began the bombing there were no refugees, these groups argued, but once the bombing started, the murders, rapes, and expulsions of almost a million Kosovars began at an unprecedented scale. Hence the correlation that NATO was the de facto Acause” of the humanitarian crisis.

However, nothing could be further from the truth than to claim that these criminal acts happened because of NATO. Under international law, there is never a justification for deliberately attacking a civilian population. Never. There are no excuses or exceptions. Whether NATO had the legal authority to attack Serbia or not is irrelevant when critiquing Serbian conduct. No actual or alleged violation of international law by NATO can be used as justification for Serbian forces to rape, expel, or murder Kosovar civilians. In my view, the implication advanced by some peace activists that NATO’s conduct of the war was somehow responsible for triggering the Serbian response was nothing short of appalling. Even the military authorities responsible for carrying out the policy of ethnic cleansing did not make such outrageous claims.

We unfortunately saw a similar kind of argument when four members of the Christian Peacekeeper Teams (CPT) delegation were kidnapped in Iraq in 2005. A press release issued by CPT stated that “[w]e are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.”27 However, the kidnappers and those who directed them made a moral choice to kidnap. No one forced them to. They had alternative ways to respond. There was no moral excuse or justification for what they did.

When one claims that a kidnapping is the result of an illegal war, or that refugee flows are the result of illegal bombing, one uses the same rationale that U.S. President George Bush has made to justify war. President Bush’s claim is that the 9/11 attacks required the U.S. to act in Iraq and elsewhere. The peace community has no business parroting his argument. We can do better.

10. Even horrific human rights abusers are aware of the power of law. In Kosovo in 1999, a rape victim described to me her attacker, who wore a ski mask to hide his identity. She spoke about “those lips” that moved behind the mask. We also know from news reports that those who committed massacres of civilians took steps to hide their work – destroying corpses, moving and hiding graves, and destroying written evidence. These criminals attempted to disguise themselves because they were aware of the power of law and were trying to hide from it.

Top commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda who have been responsible for horrific human rights abuses demanded in September 2006 that their indictments for war crimes be lifted before they would consent to come to the negotiating table. “The ICC [International Criminal Court] is the first condition, without that I cannot go home because it might be a trap,” said LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti.28

These examples strongly suggest that even those who have most blatantly flouted international human rights law understand what it is and its potential impact. By disguising their identity or trying to insulate themselves from responsibility, they show they understand that what they did was wrong.

11. International law offers a comparative basis on which to evaluate claims of right and wrong. Too often we get it wrong when we assume our own national or parochial views are best. Aboriginals were decimated by Eurocentric interests in the U.S. and Canada often because the dominant culture thought it knew best. The Middle East is bearing the brunt of the cost of the U.S.’s belief that it knows best how the Middle East should be structured. International law reflects a broader consensus than does a nation, and thereby acts as a corrective to, or limit on, nationalistic tendencies.

12. Law offers a way to make peace-building more effective. A number of years ago a research project was undertaken to study why so much good peace-building work had been done by so many people, with so many resources and with such good intent, but with so little impact. This study, the most comprehensive of its kind, was based on an intuitive sense that “the good peace work being done should be adding up to more than it is.”29

The study found that peace-building projects worked at one of two levels and with one or two groups. First, these projects focused on working with key people or more people at the individual/personal level. For example, projects would bring together Israeli and Palestinian kids to get to know each other and to see each other as fellow human beings with similar needs and concerns. The goal of working in this quadrant was to reach more and more people. Other projects focused on reaching key people: influence makers and community leaders (religious, tribal, or political leaders; gatekeepers; warlords). Every time one person is changed, this line of thinking assumes, it will eventually lead to a gathering momentum that can knock down the mightiest walls of injustice and oppression.

A shocking revelation was the finding that programs focused on the individual/personal level “will have no discernible effect” on peace.30 That is, projects that stay focused on that level, without impacting structures, are not effective. In other words, changing “more people” and even “key people” without changing structures and institutions does not lead to sustainable peace.31

A matrix diagram showing the relationship between individual/personal level (top), socio-political level (bottom), more people (left), and key people (right).

In contrast, long-standing impact occurred mainly when the sociopolitical level was engaged. This doesn’t mean that there were no important transformations at the individual or personal level, or that this kind of work should be abandoned. But for peacemaking to be truly effective, it must be institutionalized in some way at the socio-political level. The impact of institutionalization is illustrated by the heavy dark arrow pointing downward in the above diagram. Once peace work aimed at changing individual/ personal attitudes is expanded downward to include socio/political (structural) changes too, it has increased impact, sustainability, durability, and long-term results.

The study seems to suggest it is more effective to focus peace-making work at the socio-political level than at the individual/personal level. The correlation with effective peace work is stronger at the institutional level than at the individual level. Interestingly, there also seemed to be an equal correlation, represented by the heavy horizontal arrows, with the impact of work at the socio-political level that was aimed at both more people and key people.

Peace-making that fails to consider the institutional structures that law empowers, enables, and envisions does not “stick” well. “Stickiness” requires the structure of law, even though law by itself cannot accomplish real peace and reconciliation. If we want to do effective peace work, we must work with, and through, structures.


Let’s go back to where we started. Recall my professor’s admonition that a good lawyer should ensure that the proverbial little old lady, when evicted from her apartment, should be out on the sidewalk in the snow with her belongings on Christmas Eve. My professor didn’t stop there. After law is used to evict the tenant, he urged us aspiring lawyers to pick up the phone and call social services to try to find a place for the homeless woman to live. By evicting, law did its job of resolving a dispute without violence. But law did not prevent people of conscience from showing compassion. Legislating compassion, if not impossible, is an extraordinarily difficult job that law struggles to do fairly. Law’s primary job is to resolve disputes without violence, and with as much justice and compassion as fragile human institutions can muster.

What about the Dole Food Company, one of the firms I wanted to sue as a novice lawyer? Well, the company now claims to pay wages and benefits that “allow workers and their families to have a good standard of living commensurate with the societies in which they live,” to “respect “the freedom of the individual worker to join the union of his her choice,” and to place “employee welfare and protection” as a top priority.32 Why did Dole change? In my opinion, they changed because they saw the handwriting on the wall in terms of their emerging human rights obligations. Like it or not, law is changing the corporate bottom line to include a social return on investment.

Law can be a sword or a shield. It becomes a sword when people of conscience ignore it, denigrate it, or misinterpret it, all approaches that I have seen peace activists take. It becomes a shield when peace activists work to make law not just look good and seem just, but actually to be good and be just. We peace activists and scholars will get our collective hands dirty when doing engaging law as a shield, because law is seldom free from moral ambiguity. Law is often necessarily enmeshed in tremendously difficult choices for which there are no good options. It is impossible for us always to know what is best. But that does not mean we should not try. Law remains the best hope that an incredibly diverse and fragmented world has for peace.


1 Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (London: Sage Publications, 1996), 196-98.

2  http://latinojustice.org/Civil/Hazelton/hazleton%20legal%20documents/H
, viewed February 19, 2007.

3 “Welcome to Hazleton,” segment from 60 Minutes aired Sunday, November 19, 2006. This segment also included an interview with Mayor Lou Barletta, who accused illegal immigrants of ruining the quality of life, utilizing public services, and contributing to increased crime. When pressed, he could not identify who was an illegal immigrant or how many there were in this town of 30,000.

4 Galtung, 196.

5 Milan Simonich, “Hazleton mayor, ACLU square off over immigration,” Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, March 15, 2007. Viewed at www.post-gazette.com/pg/07074/769672-85.stm May 11, 2007.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Nicholas Kittrie and Eldon D. Wedlock, Jr., The Tree of Liberty: A Documentary History of Rebellion and Political Crime in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 13.

9 Article 1, Section 2, clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution counts slaves as 3/5 persons. The importation of slaves was guaranteed by the Constitution for 20 years after it was adopted (Article 9, clause 1).

10 Taken from Ryerson University School of Journalism Diversity Watch, viewed May 11, 2007 at http://www.diversitywatch.ryerson.ca/backgrounds/japanese.htm.

11 Susan E. Merritt, Her Story: Women from Canada’s Past (St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishers, Ltd., 1993), 128.

12 Taken from Library and Archives Canada, viewed May 11, 2007 at http://www.collectionscanada.ca/women/002026-305-e.html.


14 Anthony Shadid, “In Lebanon, a War’s Lethal Harvest,” Washington Post, Tuesday, September 26, 2006, A 01.

15 Maureen Ramsay, “Can Torture of Terrorist Suspects be Justified?” International Journal of Human Rights 10.2 (June 2006): 103-119, 106.

16 Taken from the Arlington National Cemetery Website, reprinting of obituary for Justice Holmes, at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/owholmes.htm. Viewed on May 11, 2007.

17 Taken from http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Ambrosius Macrobius. Viewed November 20, 2006.

18 Theodore Ziolkowski, The Mirror of Justice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 4.

19 “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,” Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ian Brownlie, Basic Documents on Human Rights: Third Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 21-22.

20 Ziolkowski, 4.

21 Opening clause of the Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Brownlie, 21.

22 “Briefing Paper: An Agenda for Human Rights,” published by Oxfam, 1998, at http://www.oxfam.org.au/campaigns/submissions/humanrights.pdf. Viewed May 14, 2007.

23 Preamble, United Nations Charter. Brownlie, 3.

24 Bill Quigley, “Blood-Pouring Anti-Nuke Clowns Sent to Prison: Weapons of Mass Destruction Protected,” published by Common Dreams.org on November 17, 2006, circulated to the Peace and Justice Studies Association list-serve, November 19, 2006.

25 Ibid. The Irish Court acquitted the protestors after hearing from international law experts who explained the illegality of U.S. military operations.

26http://www.quotationspage.com/subjects/laws. Viewed May 11, 2007.

27http://www.cpt.org/archives/2005/nov05/0036.html Iraq – Update on Missing Persons in Iraq, dated November 30, 2005.

28 “Uganda Rebels Vow Peace” at http://www.iran-daily.com/1385/2666/html/politic.htm#s175332. Viewed May 11, 2007.

29 Mary B. Anderson and Lara Olson, Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioners (Cambridge: The Collaborative for Development Action, 2003), 10.

30http://www.cdainc.com/rpp/linkages_and_leverage.php, accessed on October 20, 2006.

31 Anderson and Olson, 51-70.

32 “Labor Policies” from Dole website, November 17, 2006. Accessed at www.dole.com/CompanyInfo/Responsibility/LaborPolicies/LabPol_Index.jsp.

Lowell Ewert (B.A., J.D., LL.M.) is Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. 

Benjamin Eby Lectureship 

Benjamin Eby (1785-1853) typified, and possibly inaugurated, Mennonite culture in Upper Canada. He and his wife Mary arrived in Waterloo County from Pennsylvania in 1807. By 1812 he was ordained bishop, and in 1815 he was overseeing construction of the area’s first schoolhouse. He provided outstanding leadership in the church and in education throughout his life. The Benjamin Eby Lectureship, named in his honor and established at Conrad Grebel University College in the 1980s, offers faculty members an opportunity to share research and reflections with the broader College and University community.