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Conference abstract, The Phenomenology of Global Order - Inquiries into the Matieriality of International Law, SOAS, London September 2011: Administrating International Law – Establishing Signs of Sovereignty through Belligerent Occupation
  • Matilda Arvidsson, Lund University

Administrating International Law – Establishing Signs of Sovereignty through Belligerent Occupation

Within the field of international law of belligerent occupation scholars (e.g. Benvenisti 2004) have argued that international law requires the occupying force to sett up an administration within the occupied territory, and that such a requirement was implied – yet never spelled out – by the drafters of the Hague Regulation of 1907 which is one of the core treatises of international law regulating belligerent occupation. Whether or not there exists such a requirement might be disputed (e.g. Dinstein 2009), but as a matter of everyday practice, international law of belligerent occupation has to be administrated ‘on the ground’. Belligerent occupations are administrated every day by professionals operating under international law of belligerent occupation, subjugated to, emerging as legal subject from, and exercising their professional duties in relation to international law. These are people who in turn require or demand an organizational (legal) structure, policy and military orders and goals, standard procedures, ‘good practices’, physical locations, roads on water, air or land, security staff and equipment (including arms), interpreters, local guides, maps, means of transportation and fuel, drivers, furnished offices with suitable office equipment (including copying machines, scanners, computers, printers and ink for printers, paper clips, and staplers), suitable locations for official (diplomatic) receptions, reliable electricity, archives and archiving procedures and techniques, standards (standard contracts) for employment, insurances (health insurances, car insurances, home insurances, life insurances), private housing – including furniture and white goods, home decorations (often local ‘ethnic trophies’ or craft), cleaning and gardening stuff and house keeping personnel, food, food stuff, cafeterias, restaurants, kitchen personnel, clean (running) fresh water, air condition, health care (including psychiatric care, dentist care, and physiotherapeutic care), health care professionals and local laboratories with health care laboratory personnel, sanitary products, leisure facilities opportunities (including entertainment and entertainers), facilities for physical exercise, electronic communication devices, communication networks, money transfer networks, as well as medicinal drugs and recreational drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, weed, amphetamine, and cocaine. These everyday material conditions are only a fraction of what we call ‘administration’ of international law of belligerent occupation. ‘Administration’ or ‘administrator(s)’ are not proper terms within international law terminology. Thus, administration as a form of exercising power under international law remains largely undefined, yet, as it seems, integrated in – as well as inevitable and desirable to – the materialization and realization of international law. It seems to make sense to further examine the conditions, practices and techniques I have mentioned above as ‘administration’, and to further analyse what administration under international law of belligerent occupation is, means and does. In my paper I intend to do so by looking at one of the materializations of international belligerent law mentioned above: the archiving techniques (Derrida 1998) of administration – and in particular the use and function of the personal signature (of L. Paul Bremer III, the man embodying the office of the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq) as a form of continuous (personal and physical sovereign) presence into an infinite future (Derrida 1984) – during the administration of the occupation of Iraq 2003–2004; and how the signs of the archive as a materialization of international law of belligerent occupation establish a certain form of sovereignty (a in the sense of dominion – thus relating both to a specific territory and a specific form of exercise of power) which supersedes the time-limits of the occupation and the distinctive non-sovereign relation between the occupying power and the occupied people. In other words: I aim to look closer at that which starts as everyday practices of the professionals realizing the administration of international law of belligerent occupation but which seems to continue to operate the (formerly) occupied society also after the administration is formally or officially dissolved and the administrators have been flown home. The establishment of archives and the use of archival techniques is a well known and researched practice of colonial administrations (e.g. Merry 2002; Stoler 2002) – noting that the term ‘administration’ appears in both these contexts of foreign domination and rule. In my paper I want to connect the critical postcolonial scholarship on archives of colonial administrations (in particular archives of/in relation to law) with a critical international legal scholarship regarding the materialization of belligerent occupation and the establishment of a sovereignty/dominion through administration.


Benvenisti, Eyal: The International Law of Occupation: With a new preface by the author. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford 2004. Derrida, Jacques: Margins of Philosophy. Translated, with additional notes, by Alan Bass. Chicago University Press, Chicago 1984 [1972]. Derrida, Jacques: Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago University Press, Chicago 1998 [1995]. Dinstein, Yoram: The International Law of Belligerent Occupation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2009. Merry, Sally Engle: ‘Ethnography in the Archives’. In June Starr & Mark Goodale (eds): Practicing Ethnography in Law: New Dialogues, Enduring Methods. Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2002, 128–142. Stoler, Laura Ann: ‘Colonial Archives and the Art of Governance’. 2 (1–2) Archival Science (2002) 87–109.

  • belligerent occupation,
  • administration,
  • sovereignty,
  • materiality of international law,
  • archive,
  • colonial administration
Publication Date
September, 2011
Citation Information
Matilda Arvidsson. "Conference abstract, The Phenomenology of Global Order - Inquiries into the Matieriality of International Law, SOAS, London September 2011: Administrating International Law – Establishing Signs of Sovereignty through Belligerent Occupation" (2011)
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