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Misapplication of International Legal Norms in Socially Abnormal Situations (Part #8)

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Legal norms may be very appropriate in relatively static cultures and circumstances. It is increasingly questionable whether in their present form they are relevant to rapidly evolving situations where many effectively live for long periods of their lives in a lawless society or a legal no-man's-land. This is especially the case where law enforcement is non-existent, weak or corrupt -- or beyond the financial means of many. These considerations are exacerbated in cultures where the status of legal documents and the binding power of signatures and agreements are not based on the same assumptions as in the West.

There is therefore a need to review the cross-cultural implications of international legal norms. This may even be of value as a means of detecting hidden assumptions distorting understandings of consensus between Western cultures (as is suggested by business-motivated research in this area).

There is above all a need to explore new possibilities for justice in dynamic evolving social situations typical of Russia and other countries in rapid transition. It is regretablethat this approach has not been applied to developing countries which arguably have been subjected to what amounts to Western 'legal colonialism'. It may also be vital for the conditions of social crisis foreseen for Western countries in the near future should the unemployment/social security crisis get out of hand.

The Western requirement of adherence to international legal norms may be as questionable as the refusal to allow people to acquire arms to defend themselves when under attack -- as is the case in Bosnia. It is as questionable as the penalization of victims of agression when they endeavour to defend themselves in the absence of effective police protection.

It is clear that the dependence of modern legal procedures on a stable (ie relatively static) social environment raises interesting challenges concerning the manner in which justice in dynamic systems can be envisaged.

There is a need to learn from situations that are so dynamic that regulation of disputes and injustice must be done 'on the fly' in order to maintain their relevance to the dynamic within which they are embedded. In such situations split-second decisions are vital to survival and any delay is fatal. Examples that could be explored include: commercial and financial exchanges, some forms of sport (notably ball games), and military combat conditions.

The Council of Europe needs to face up to its responsibilities for people who are forced by circumstances beyond their control to live outside the rule of law -- especially since these conditions increasingly apply in the West itself.

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