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Soldier at computer controlling rocket launch.

‘Judge, jury and executioner’: why holding militaries to account for alleged war crimes is so hard – podcast

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, why is it so difficult to prosecute militaries for alleged war crimes? We speak to experts about the legal hurdles. And a look at why sarcasm is so difficult for children to understand.

By hanging around military bases in the US and Israel, Craig Jones managed to meet a usually very secretive group of people: military lawyers. A lecturer in political geography at Newcastle University in the UK, Jones’s research focuses on the consequences of aerial targeting and the legal advice behind it. And it led him to interview some of the military lawyers involved in targeted killing operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza.

In this episode, he explains what he learnt from these conversations – including the way different militaries interpret international law to suit their own purposes. “When powerful states do that and they do it for long enough, without too much opposition,” Jones says, “their argument is that has a habit of creating law itself.” If civilians are killed or injured in these strikes, militaries do sometimes step in to investigate when there is enough pressure on them to do so – but there is little recourse to justice for victims and their families.

Read more: 'Almost divine power': the lawyers who sign off who lives and who dies in modern war zones

There are other ways to trigger investigations into alleged war crimes, more specifically with the help of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Amy Maguire, associate professor at the University of Newcastle Law School in Australia, explains the court’s history and how its investigations work. “The ICC has a very small caseload: it has initiated only 30 cases over the past 20 years,” she says. Of these, so far only four resulted in the conviction of the suspects. Maguire explains the context of a newly opened ICC investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories – and what might happen next.

Read more: Why is accountability for alleged war crimes so hard to achieve in the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

In our second story, we’re delving into new research about the way children learn to understand language (28m37s). Specifically, sarcasm. Penny Pexman, professor of psychology at the University of Calgary in Canada, explains why sarcasm is so hard for children to learn – and how to make it easier for them.

Read more: Why it's difficult for children to understand sarcasm

And Megan Clement, a commissioning editor at The Conversation in Paris, gives us some of her recommended reading (38m52s).

This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. or via email on You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

News clips in this episode are from Al Jazeera English, Channel 4, Democracy Now, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, RT News, SABC News, CGTN Africa, BBC News, International Criminal Court, Arirang News and CNN.

You can listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.

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