Moments of Nino

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EJIL is marking in different ways the passing of Nino Cassese, one of its founding editors. I have no intention of listing all of Antonio Cassese’s many distinctions and achieve­ments as one of the great international lawyers of his generation. Readers of EJIL will be familiar with all of that, and Wikipedia (a decent entry) is just one click away. It is the person behind the public figure who is of interest. One has to be personal. I met Nino for the first time in 1978. I was a young(ish) Assistant at the European University Insti­tute. He was a Professor ‘down town’ in Florence. Relations between the faculty at the University and the EUI on the top of the hill were frosty. At best an entente cordiale. Nino would have none of that. He embraced me and within months of my arrival invited me, first to his home, and then to contribute to a major project he was directing on Parlia­mentary Control of Foreign Policy. I was asked by him to write the Report on the Euro­pean Communities. It was a telling moment. The late Christoph Sasse, distinguished professor of EC law from Hamburg, was indignant: ‘a role for a Professor, not an Assist­ant’. Nino had no patience for that stuff either. He really did not know me all that well and was taking a risk. But it was typical of him: reaching out, welcoming, having faith, including the young, foreigners. It galvanized me. It was, too, a lesson for life.

Planting trees together, ploughing fields, building houses, jointly creating some­thing from nothing, all bring people together as little else does. I was privileged to build two houses together with Nino. One was this Journal – EJIL. Bruno (Simma) and I had no doubt that it should be Nino we should turn to as our Italian ‘partner’. He embraced the project with his typical enthusiasm and commitment. He had more ideas per gallon than all of us put together. The Italians have a wonderful saying: Nove parlano, Uno fa. Nine talk, one does! Nino was one of those Ones. Indeed, he did the work of all the other nine put together. And of course it was infectious. Those of you with some experience in these matters know how meetings of journals, institutes and the like proceed. The French idiom ‘Il faut’ goes into overtime. One needs to do this, and one needs to do that. A nice way of being creative, engaged and, yet, lazy and un­committed at the same time. Nino would collect all the ‘Il fauts’ like the discarded wine bottles at our meetings and then just do them! Whether it was organizing, or writing.

I attach at the end of the Editorial in the Current Volume of EJIL a list of his contributions to EJIL over the years – some iconic, all memorable. His imprint on the Journal is still everywhere, years after he left to build yet another house, the Journal of International Criminal Justice.

We also established together the Academy of European Law – now in its 23rd year. He took charge of the Human Rights section, I led the EU part. The same enthusiasm was on display there too. Here is a tiny, telling anecdote. At a certain point we had to dismiss an employee of the Academy who simply was not up to the task. Nino just could not do it. He called me, his Co-Director, for a little talk. ‘Joe, you’re an Old Testament type. You have to do it’… I did.

I invite students, colleagues, friends to contribute Moments of Nino – stories and recol­lections, which illuminate not his professorial or judicial or diplomatic prowess, but Nino’s human side and his great humanity. Please use the comments box below!

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Dapo Akande says

January 4, 2012

Nino Cassese's capacity for encouraging and promoting younger colleagues was quite amazing. Much of my scholarship over the past few years has focussed on the application of general international law to (and by) the International Criminal Court. It was Nino Cassese who got me interested in this topic. In late 2002, at a time when I hadn't written anything on international criminal law, I received an email from Nino, out of the blue, inviting me to contribute to the inaugural (2003) volume of the Journal of International Criminal Justice. He suggested that I write on the ICC and Third States. At the time, I was a Lecturer at the University of Durham and Visiting Professor at the University of Miami Law School. I had been in academia for just a few years. Though I knew of, and had listened to the great Professor and Judge, I had never had a conversation with him. I was shocked and humbled by the request and did my best to produce a piece on the topic. Nino was also the one who encouraged me to continue to work in this area by inviting me a few years later to join the team the of editors for the Oxford Comapanion to International Criminal Justice to and to contribute a chapter on the sources of International Criminal law.

His departure is a great loss to us all!