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In Memoriam: Vera Gowlland-Debbas

Published on March 30, 2017        Author: 

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22 September 1943 – 29 September 2015

Vera Gowlland-Debbas was a dedicated and active member of EJIL’s Scientific Advisory Board from 2007 to 2012. Her loss has been deeply felt. In this Editorial, Marcelo Kohen, Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and her long-time colleague, pays homage to Vera’s lasting contribution to the field of international law.

On 29 September 2015, Vera Gowlland ultimately lost her battle with a cruel disease that she had fought with courage and dignity. This is a great loss not only for the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, where she completed her licence and her doctorate, served in the publications department and taught from 1994 until her retirement in 2009, when she became an honorary professor. It is also a great loss for international law and for the values she defended.

Despite her illness, Vera continued to work in a variety of ways in our discipline, giving counsel on issues related to the International Criminal Court and continuing her contribution to academia. Her last physical presence at an academic event was as the Chair of a panel at a symposium on ‘International Law and Time’, held in Geneva on 12-13 June 2015, at which, without knowing it, she was to say farewell to her colleagues and students. While her voice was wavering, her spirited enthusiasm remained clear to see, and her joy at sharing this academic event at the institution where she had so often taught and organized academic activities herself was apparent.

Vera’s intellectual contribution is a distinguished legacy. She always had a tremendous appetite for problem-solving. Her doctoral thesis, written during the Cold War period and entitled: ‘Collective Responses to Illegal Acts in International Law’, focused on the reaction of the international community to the alleged creation of the racist state of Southern Rhodesia at a time when the active use of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter had not been seriously considered. This appetite was also reflected in her monumental work on the national implementation of sanctions adopted by the Security Council, which provides important guidance and remains the most comprehensive and significant work in this field. Her course at the Hague Academy of International Law on the Security Council and questions of international responsibility complements her long record of publications and confirms her reputation as an uncontested specialist of the United Nations. Read the rest of this entry…