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Home Archive for category "Study of International Law"

The Future of International Law in an Authoritarian World

Published on June 3, 2019        Author: 
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In this short review essay, I would like to offer some thoughts on the future of international law in an increasingly authoritarian world. Even for a discipline which loves a crisis, these are perhaps challenging times. The liberal cosmopolitan project of global governance through international law and multilateral institutions has, at the very least, hit a bump in the road. There is a widespread sense that a change in direction is likely. It is a reasonable time to reflect on questions such as: is international law in trouble? How concerned should we be at attempts to revise the international system? And what might a more authoritarian version of international law look like?

In reflecting on the questions I’d like to offer my readings of three scholars I’ve recently found thought-provoking. These are personal reflections and interpretations, not an effort to capture every nuance of their work. Nonetheless, each has had an impact on my thinking.

  1. Shirley Scott, “The Decline of International Law as a Normative Ideal

In this piece, Scott contrasts her view of international law with what she considers the dangers in the turn to speaking about a “rules-based order”. Scott sees the project of international law as historically containing a commitment to several major principles.

First, the principle that law is politically neutral: a conception that law stands aside from politics, and creates a level playing field for state actors, to engage and to argue with each other. This principle includes the idea of formal sovereign equality.

Second, a commitment to peace through law: the idea that law contains within it the potential for objective dispute settlement, and that this is a contribution to world peace. Read the rest of this entry…

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Founding “Fathers” of International Law: Recognizing Christine de Pizan

Published on January 15, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s Note:  This post was first published by the author in French in the Galerie des internationalistes francophones (Gallery of French-Speaking Internationalists) on the website of the French Society for International Law (SFDI).  We are particularly grateful that Professor Latty’s translated version will reach the EJIL:Talk! readership around the world.

At the start of 2019 and the year long campaign designed around International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019, it may be particularly apt for the readers of EJIL: Talk! to consider Christine de Pizan (around 1365 – around 1430), a medieval woman of letters, as one of the founders of international law – even if somewhat surprising for several reasons.  One is the anachronism attached to this qualification, the invention of the word “international” attributed to Bentham in 1780 being much later than Pizan’s passage on earth. At that time, only a few States, in the contemporary sense of the term, had taken shape, while the idea of a legal system organizing their relations was still in limbo. Moreover, Pizan is not a woman of law but an intellectual “all-rounder”. Above all, she has been completely ignored by internationalist scholars – with the notable exception of the Belgian Ernest Nys who devoted several studies to her work, or rare authors such as Anzilotti who mentioned her contribution in his Corso di diritto internazionale (vol. I, transl. G. Gidel, Sirey, 1929). She has since disappeared again from the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists, whereas since the end of the 20thcentury, the rediscovery of her work has been the subject of extensive study in other fields of human and social sciences.

(Photo source here.)

However, her Livre des faits d’armes et de chevalerie (The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry) is one of the first known texts on the law of war. This is why a legal historian specializing in the status of women once presented Pizan not without emphasis as the “mother of international law” (M. T. Guerra Medici, « The Mother of International Law: Christine de Pisan », Parliaments, Estates and Representation, vol. 19, 1999, n° 1,pp. 15-22), thus supplanting a Grotius whose paternity was already highly doubtful (Ch. Leben, « Grotius : père du droit international », in Dictionnaire des idées reçues en droit international, Paris, Pedone, 2017, pp. 279-285). In any case, in the pantheon of the founding “fathers” of international law, haunted by men, Pizan should occupy a special place: she is not only the first woman to have written about “international” law; she is one of its very first known authors, even before Vitoria, Gentili or Suarez.

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70 Years of the International Law Commission: Drawing a Balance for the Future

Published on May 3, 2018        Author:  and
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This post, and its sister post on OpinioJuris, mark the start of the seventieth session of the International Law Commission. Under the theme “70 years of the International Law Commission: Drawing a Balance for the Future”, commemorative events will be held on 21 May in New York and on 5-6 July in Geneva. In these two posts, Christiane Ahlborn and Bart Smit Duijzentkunst of the Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, which serves as the secretariat of the Commission, place the role of the Commission in a historical context and discuss its promises and challenges moving forward.

This week the International Law Commission has started its seventieth session in New York. From its first session, in 1949, the Commission has played an indispensable role in the promotion of the “progressive development of international law and its codification”. Yet the desire to “codify” international law – to formulate and systematize rules of international law in order to avoid conflicting norms and enhance legal certainty – predates the Commission by many decades, if not centuries. An exhibit exploring the history and the achievements of the Commission is currently on display in the Visitors Lobby of the General Assembly Building at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Here are five things you may not know about the International Law Commission and the codification movement from which it emerged. Read the rest of this entry…

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Reply to Dunoff and Pollack: ‘Experimenting with International Law’

Published on April 4, 2018        Author:  and
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In the last issue of the European Journal of International Law we published an experimental study on the ability of international law students and experts to ignore information in the context of treaty interpretation. The same issue included a follow-up article by Jeffrey Dunoff and Mark Pollack. We find Dunoff and Pollack’s practical exercise of critically reading experimental studies important and helpful in moving the broader methodological and theoretical concerns into a concrete discussion of actual studies. In the following sections, we will try to contribute to this effort by reflecting on their assessment of our study.

The Study

Before delving into Dunoff and Pollack’s discussion of our paper, we would like to briefly summarize our study, which one of us also summarized in this EJIL:Live! interview. Our study was designed to empirically test a notion that has been mentioned in the treaty interpretation literature, which suggests that it is practically impossible to ignore the content of preparatory work after exposure, even when a rule prohibits the use of such material. This notion is supported by studies on the difficulty of ignoring information in other legal contexts, such as exposure to inadmissible evidence. To test this notion’s validity, we conducted three experiments that examined the ability of international law students and experts to ignore information about preparatory work while interpreting treaties. Our findings indicate that experts are better able than students to ignore preparatory work when they believe that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) rules on treaty interpretation do not allow the use of such information. This suggests that there is something unique about international law expertise (or legal expertise in general) that enables the experts to resist the effect of exposure to such information. Read the rest of this entry…

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Do We Need Another Database of International Law Documents?

Published on March 12, 2018        Author: , and
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Online databases and repositories appear to be the new golden calf of law publishers which have invested a lot of money in these new academic products. Some publishers secured an early lead position in this market while others are now catching up. From the perspective of the academics that contribute to the developments of such tools, the market still appears to be in development and below saturation. Yet, it cannot be excluded that the continued development of databases ends up cannibalizing publishers’ other, more traditional, products, such as reference books and law reports. This is however a debate for another day. For now, it suffices to note that users — whether students, researchers, practitioners — seem to value international law databases; at least as long as their institution can afford to provide them with access thereto.

It is against this backdrop that the recent launch of Oxford International Organizations (OXIO) – which was celebrated on the occasion of a well attended event hosted by the Graduate Institute in Geneva – raises the question of what epistemic and practical gaps which this new database of documents and annotations specifically dedicated to international organizations can potentially fill. This is why, in the following paragraphs, we inquire into some of the disciplinary assumptions upon which the development of such a product rests, especially in relation to the law of international organizations (1), as well as the concrete benefits which users can draw from OXIO (2).

Consolidating the Law of International Organizations? Read the rest of this entry…

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Turbulent Times for the International Rule of Law: A Reply

Published on March 9, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This post concludes our first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where our distinguished Contributing Editors lent their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge with Monday’s post, and to Monica Hakimi (Tuesday posts here and here), Christian Tams (Wednesday’s post here), and Lorna McGregor (yesterday’s post here) for thought-provoking responses throughout this past week’s Debate.

I am grateful for the thoughtful comments this week by Lorna McGregor, Monica Hakimi and Christian Tams on my initial post. It is first worth noting that all three colleagues use in the headlines of their comments the notion of ‘turbulent times’ respectively ‘decline and crisis’ which indicates, at least in my view, that there is at least a certain intuition (as Christian Tams put it) that the international legal order (to use yet another maritime metaphor) currently has to navigate through heavy weather. This in and of itself seems to warrant the research agenda I have tried to lay out in my initial post.

Yet, while to some extent the comments have, at least partially, focused on what approaches or strategies are appropriate to eventually overcome any alleged ‘decline’ in the international rule of law, I continue to believe that the foremost question is, first, as to whether we indeed, if so to what extent, and in which areas of international law in particular, we currently face such decline.

In that regard I fully share the almost obvious position that any such determination requires much more research than what can even be hinted at in a short blog contribution like the one I have written. As a matter of fact such analysis must be nuanced (what areas of international are most concerned and why), multifaceted, interdisciplinary, and must focus, inter alia, on challenges for institutions that form the cornerstone of modern international law such as international organizations (providing for fora for interstate cooperation and the regulation of problems of international concern) and international courts and tribunals (providing for legally binding third party dispute settlement of international disputes).

Yet, it is certainly a truism that a mere quantitative approach does not suffice since, to paraphrase the example used by Christian Tams, one single withdrawal from the Rome Statute would probably at least be a more relevant sign than ten withdrawals from the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (as important the latter is for the daily routine of cross-boundary traffic). In particular, as part of a more qualitative approach, one needs to have a look whether the current perceived ‘turbulences’ have also by now reached the more fundamental layers of international law, i.e. meta-rules such as the ones on sources, State responsibility, State immunity, treaty interpretation, or res judicata effect of international court decisions must be abided by the parties involved, to name but a few, the general acceptance of which is indispensable for a functioning international legal system. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Thickening of the International Rule of Law in ‘Turbulent’ Times

Published on March 8, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This week we hold the first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where some or all of our distinguished Contributing Editors lend their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge with Monday’s post, and to Monica Hakimi (Tuesday posts here and here), Christian Tams (yesterday’s post here), and Lorna McGregor for thought-provoking responses throughout this week’s Debate.

In a thought-provoking post, Andreas Zimmerman traces the ‘(increasing?) tendency, at least by some States, to bluntly disregard international law, and to challenge its normativity as such’. In his conclusion, he focuses on the role of scholars which he frames as a ‘vocation … to carefully analyse to what extent, and for what reasons, the international rule of law may thus have become an endangered species, and how to protect it’. He proposes that ‘at least for the time being, [the role of scholars] is to carefully analyse, first, what the actual rules to be applied are, rather than aspiring to further ‘improve’ its content’. He argues that ‘[i]t is only this way that under the prevailing circumstances as many States as possible may be convinced that abiding by the international rule of law continues to be in their own interest’.

In the constraints of this short blog, I focus on the argument made by Zimmerman that scholars should desist from ‘aspiring to further ‘improve’ [the] content’ of the international rule of law. In the first part of this post, I note that scholars and practitioners often make arguments against the creation of new treaties. On their face, these arguments appear to support a focus on ‘the rules to be applied’. However, they are usually (but not always) made on pragmatic grounds of what is politically and strategically possible and there are many examples of the adoption of new treaties to fill gaps and for other purposes such as enforcement. This is particularly the case during ‘turbulent times’. Moreover, I suggest that it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between ‘the actual rules to be applied’ and ‘improvements’ to them as the application of existing norms typically involves elaboration and a thickening of international law. I therefore ask whether a distinction between application and improvement inadvertently risks stifling the role of international law in ‘turbulent times’ and undermining its expressive function.

I then question whether aspirations to ‘improve’ the content of the international rule of law are in any case a central cause of backlash. This is a key determinant to whether such ‘aspirations’ should be curbed in scholarship. Drawing on the burgeoning literature on compliance and implementation of international law, I suggest that the reasons states disregard and challenge international law are complex and varied and scholarship needs to work within this complexity, particularly from a multi and interdisciplinary perspective, if it is to effectively protect the international rule of law.

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Decline and crisis: a plea for better metaphors and criteria

Published on March 7, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This week we hold the first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where some or all of our distinguished Contributing Editors lend their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge with Monday’s post, and to Monica Hakimi (Tuesday posts here and here), Christian Tams, and Lorna McGregor for thought-provoking responses throughout this week’s Debate.

Andreas Zimmermann’s introductory post offers an intriguing mix of grand theme and technical detail. It certainly prompted me to reflect on changes both great and small, and their impact on international law. Unlike Monica Hakimi, I have no issue with the thrust of Andreas’ argument; I notably share the feeling that (if I read his opening Dylan quote correctly) animated his post: “the waters around us seem to have grown”.  Perhaps more than Andreas, I remain uncertain whether that feeling is well-founded. More particularly, I wonder how much of our current talk about crises, dark times, disorder & contestation, new isolationism is just noise, perhaps even a reflex. (Ours is a ‘discipline of crisis’ after all; we “revel” in a good one, as Hilary Charlesworth noted perceptively two decades ago.) And how much is based on real, measurable changes in what Andreas refers to as “the social fabric of international law”, or its role in international relations.  It is to this question that my comments in the following are directed. They are an attempt to take the debate further, and they seek to do so by making two pleas: a plea for better metaphors, and a plea for criteria as we discuss ‘International Law in Dark Times’. Read the rest of this entry…

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International Law in “Turbulent Times,” Part II

Published on March 6, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This week we hold the first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where some or all of our distinguished Contributing Editors lend their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge with yesterday’s post, and to Monica Hakimi, Christian Tams, and Lorna McGregor for thought-provoking responses throughout this week’s Debate.

In my previous post, I argued that international law does not foster cooperation at the expense of conflict. It fosters both simultaneously. It helps the participants overcome their differences and achieve a shared agenda, while helping them have and sharpen their disputes. The two kinds of interactions are symbiotic, not antithetical, so the fact that international law cannot stop global actors from inflaming or continuing to have a conflict is not good evidence of its weakness or decline; international law itself enables such interactions. Below, I take my argument a step farther. I claim that the conflicts that are had through international law are not just something to grin and bear; they are often quite productive for the legal project. I then return to the central question that Andreas posed: how might we assess whether international law is in decline?

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International Law in “Turbulent Times,” Part I

Published on March 6, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This week we hold the first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where some or all of our distinguished Contributing Editors lend their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge with yesterday’s post, and to Monica Hakimi, Christian Tams, and Lorna McGregor for thought-provoking responses throughout this week’s Debate.

Andreas Zimmermann’s interesting post raises foundational questions about international law’s role in the global order. In suggesting that international law is in decline, he assumes a particular vision of what international law does or should do, and thus of how we might evaluate its decay. The vision seems familiar. Many contend that the role of international law is to help global actors curb their disputes and promote their common interests, policies, or values. Of course, these actors will at times disagree. But according to this view, conflicts—normative disputes that manifest in materially relevant ways—are impediments to international law or problems for international law to overcome. They detract from or betray the limits of international law, at least insofar as they persist without final or authoritative resolution.

For example, Andreas suggests that states’ noncompliance with judicial decisions is evidence of international law’s weakness or decline. It shows that international law cannot effectively or legitimately resolve a dispute that is impeding the realization of the prescribed (and presumably shared) agenda. He thus ends his post by arguing that, “in turbulent times,” like the current one, international lawyers and legal scholars ought to insist that the law be applied as it is, and ought not push it in more contentious, value-laden directions that would further destabilize it.

Below and in a follow-up post, I draw on two of my recent articles to explain why that vision for international law is flawed. I then use this analysis to bring into sharper focus one of the principal challenges that international law now confronts.

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