The "State of Emergency" as the Rule and Not the Exception: crisis conditions and exploitative lawmaking during COVID-19 and beyond

Hosted by the Department of Law

Online public event


Dr Sinan Antoon

Dr Sinan Antoon

Carly A. Krakow

Carly A. Krakow

Professor Vasuki Nesiah

Professor Vasuki Nesiah


Professor Gerry Simpson

Professor Gerry Simpson

Writing in the context of resistance to 20th century Fascism, in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History" Walter Benjamin wrote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” The pattern of authoritarian regimes exploiting crisis conditions to push forward unjust and marginalizing reforms has been repeated in the context of numerous crises and conflicts worldwide throughout recent history.

Currently, state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and police responses to the protests that have followed the police killing of George Floyd in the United States have sparked new concerns about governmental weaponization of authentic crisis conditions for nefarious purposes. By looking at key issues surrounding the declaration of official states of emergency, this event will cover how the exploitation of crisis can be understood as an essential ingredient in the production of laws and policies that repress vulnerable populations, violate international human rights, and fuel the power of authoritarian, totalitarian, and corrupt regimes, with dire implications on local and international scales.

Drawing on Benjamin’s conceptualization of the “state of emergency” to frame the conversation, historical and contemporary examples to be discussed by experts from multidisciplinary perspectives include the Trump administration’s exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic to eliminate environmental and public health protections; the role of national emergency declarations in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War; and unauthorized arrests and violations of the rights of protesters worldwide amid the rise of international anti-racism protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sinan Antoon (@SinanAntoon) is an Associate Professor at New York University's Gallatin School. He is an award-winning and widely-celebrated novelist, poet, scholar, and translator who was born and raised in Baghdad and left Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. He holds degrees from Baghdad University, Georgetown University, and Harvard University, where he obtained a doctorate in Arabic Literature. He has published two collections of poetry and four novels. His works have been translated into thirteen languages. He returned to his hometown in 2003 to co-direct the film About Baghdad, a documentary about Baghdad after dictatorship and under occupation. His translation of his own novel, The Corpse Washer, won the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Literary Translation. His op-eds have appeared in The GuardianThe New York TimesThe Nation, and various pan-Arab publications. His latest novel, The Book of Collateral Damage, was published by Yale University Press in 2019. 

Carly A. Krakow (@CarlyKrakow) is a PhD Candidate and Judge Rosalyn Higgins Scholar in the Department of Law at LSE. Her writing, research, and activism focus on international law, environmental justice, and human rights in contexts of statelessness and displacement. Her recent writing has appeared in publications including Al Jazeera, Jadaliyya, openDemocracy, Truthout, and the academic journal Water. At Jadaliyya, she is Special Projects Managing Editor and Co-Editor of the Environment Page. Carly earned her MPhil in International Relations and Politics from the University of Cambridge and her BA in Human Rights Law, Environmental Policy, and Comparative Literature from NYU. Her research in the Palestinian West Bank, South Africa, and Greece has focused on topics including the law and politics of water access, refugee rights, and justice for people affected by exposure to environmental toxins.

Vasuki Nesiah (@VasukiNesiah) is Professor of Human Rights and International Law at the Gallatin School, NYU. She has published on the history and politics of human rights, humanitarianism, international criminal law, global feminisms, and decolonization. Her current project, Reading the Ruins: Slavery, Colonialism and International Law, focuses on international legal history, including reparations claims. Recent publications include the co-edited A Global History of Bandung and Critical Traditions in International Law (Cambridge 2017). Forthcoming publications include International Conflict Feminism (under contract with UPenn. Press). She is a founding member of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL). 

Gerry Simpson was appointed to a Chair in Public International Law at LSE in 2016. He previously taught at the University of Melbourne (2007-2015), the Australian National University (1995-1998), and LSE (2000-2007), and has held visiting positions at ANU, Melbourne, NYU, and Harvard. He is the author of Great Powers and Outlaw States (Cambridge 2004), winner of the American Society of International Law Annual Prize for Creative Scholarship in 2005, and Law, War and Crime: War Crimes Trials and the Reinvention of International Law (Polity 2007). He is co-editor (with Kevin Jon Heller) of Hidden Histories (Oxford 2014), (with Raimond Gaita) of Who’s Afraid of International Law? (Monash 2016), and (with Matt Craven and Sundhya Pahuja) of International Law and the Cold War (Cambridge 2019). He is a Fellow of the British Academy.

The Department of Law (@LSELaw) is one of the world's top law schools with an international reputation for the quality of its teaching and legal research. Our community is one of the largest in the School, and has played a major role in policy debates, policy-making and the education of lawyers and law teachers globally.

This event forms part of LSE’s Shaping the Post-COVID World initiative, a series of debates about the direction the world could and should be taking after the crisis.

Twitter Hashtag for this event: #LSECOVID19

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