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Sebastian Gehrig (Roehampton), Sovereignty, Law, and Rights in the German Cold War, 1945-1989

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Location: FAB 4.52

All welcome. Please email Anna Ross ( for any questions.

Law became one of the most important vehicles to organize the German-German Cold War in everyday life. Both the governments in Bonn and East Berlin used legal sovereignty doctrines to make claims to represent post-war German statehood legitimately. Using law to infringe on the other state’s political legitimacy had far reaching consequences for German-German Cold War politics and ordinary Germans’ rights. This talk explores the dynamics at play when law became the object of ideological conflicts as well as a central tool by which the two German governments conducted these ideological skirmishes over domestic and international political legitimacy. This legal battle, fought as much within the corridors of the United Nations and other international organization as in German court rooms, legal scholarship, and by state-sponsored rights activists, forced both German states to open their legal systems to international law making. In doing so, new human rights languages and sovereignty frameworks made the German-German legal confrontation as much part of Cold War ideological conflicts as it inscribed conflicts over postcolonial sovereignty during and after decolonization into German law-making East and West of the Berlin Wall. 

Tags: Lecture EHRC

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