Maxine Beneba Clarke
Contradictio in adjecto

most of us,

    it seems ridiculous now,

were there to save all life


                      from hostes humani generis


which we’d learnt,

      way back in week two of class

meant the enemies of mankind



twenty years on,

   more than some have faltered


and others weary of the fight


but the conventions,

                           and declarations,


   they still stand


in corpus juris gentium:

                                            international law



      leave all civilians untouched, medical

workers should be allowed to do their

jobs, the sick or wounded have the right

to be cared for, and there should, of course,

             be no torture



the geneva conventions


they turned platinum, this week

seventy years enshrined in law



we called them

                   contradictio in adjecto:

the humanitarian rules of war



      moulded from a moment

the world pulled together

                  of common heart, and saw


how animal, unchecked, we are:


our barbarity,

                                   ever portent



it really seems ridiculous now,

        but we thought we’d save the world


    from hostes humani generis:


                                     the enemies

                                                      of us all

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription