BYERS, Michael




Author Tags: Law, Politics

In the early 1940s, German soldiers shaved off the beards of Orthodox Jews. American soldiers have done the same to Islamic fundamentalists captured in Afghanistan. The sickening—and largely unpunished—physical abuse and sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq is one of the subjects addressed by Michael Byers in his treatise for the layman, War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict (D&M $35), recommended by Noam Chomsky. “The United States,” writes Byers, “wields more power than any political entity since the Roman Empire.”

Holding a Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC, Byers traces international humanitarian law from the 1859 Battle of Solferino to the ‘regime changes’ that entailed the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein in wars not sanctioned by the United Nations. Byers refers to the disturbing precedent of Guantanámo Bay where so-called ‘enemy combatants’ are being incarcerated indefinitely, in contravention of the Geneva Convention, but he doesn’t consider whether or not the U.S.-engineered torture of Canadian citizen Mahar Arar can be justified in accordance with the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence.

Byers' 2007 release, Intent for a Nation (Douglas & MacIntyre), is sub-sub-titled "A relentlessly optimistic manifesto for Canada's role in the world." In it, Byers seeks to convince the Canadian public that Canada is a truly impressive country, something he believes no one really realizes:
"We've got one of the highest standards of libing, a fully functional public health system, and we're the largest source of oil and gas to the world's greatest super-power. We've got one of the largest countries on the planet, and we're the only G8 country with balanced books. We're a serious country. But our clout--we don't use it. Canada has the capacity to do truly great things." It is with this spirit of hope that he continues throughout the book, addressing issues such as Northern sovereignty, nuclear war, and Canada's role as a peace-keeper.

In Who Owns the Arctic?: Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in Canada's North (D&M, 2009), Byers provides a primer on on the international rules governing the division and protection of the Arctic and the current territorial disputes over the region involving U.S., Russia, Canada and Nordic states.

Previously Byers wrote Custom, Power and the Power of Rules (Cambridge University Press, 1999). He edited The Role of Law in International Politics (Oxford University Press, 2000) and co-edited United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2003). He is a contributor to CBC, the London Review of Books, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star.

BOOKS:

Who owns the Arctic?: Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in Canada's North (D&M, 2009).

Intent for a Nation: What is Canada For? (Douglas & MacIntyre, 2007) $32.95 (hard.) 978-1-55365-250-2

United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law [co-ed.] (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

The Role of Law in International Politics [ed.] (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Custom, Power and the Power of Rules (Cambridge University Press, 1999


[BCBW 2009] "Politics" "Law"