The Course Catalogue of The Hague Academy as a Timeline of International Law

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Sadie BlanchardSadie Blanchard is a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for International, European and Regulatory Procedural Law.

The Hague Academy of International Law (logo, below right, credit) has offered annual courses in public and private international law for eighty-five years as part of its founding objective of promoting “peace through law.” This year’s courses on public international law ended in July and the private international law courses ended this month. Each year the public international law course attracts students from up to eighty countries worldwide, with this year’s hosting a record number of nearly 350 students. The 2013 General Course on Public International Law was delivered by Professor James Crawford (Cambridge) and was titled “The Course of International Law. Practice and Process of the Law of Nations”. Other courses in 2013 included a course by Professor Eyal Benvenisti (Tel Aviv), “The International Law of Global Governance”; a course by Professor Robert Kolb (Geneva) on “Article 103 of the United Nations Charter;” and a course by Professor Anna Wyrozumska (Lodz)  on “The Role of Domestic Judges in the Development of International Law“.

The form and content of Academy courses over the years reflect the evolution of international law and the unfolding of global affairs, and at times Academy courses have even been harbingers of things to come. This post highlights a few examples.

After over forty years of holding courses only in French—then the language of diplomacy—Hague Academywhen the Academy reconvened in 1947 after a hiatus during World War II, it offered its first courses in English, reflecting the rise of U.S. global power after the war. That same year, as the UN General Assembly drafted and considered the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Hersch Lauterpacht taught The International Protection of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration was adopted the following year.

Interestingly, while among States human rights did not gather steam as an international legal doctrine until after World War II, the courses of The Hague Academy remind us that international law scholars were laying its foundation well before then. In 1923, the Academy’s inaugural year, André Mandelstam gave the course La Protection des Minorités. He opened the course by referring to obligations imposed on the losing States through various peace treaties after World War I to protect the rights of all persons within their territories to life, liberty, religious freedom; the entitlements of all nationals to equal civil and political rights; and the additional rights of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities to cultural liberty. Mandelstam observed that to the extent that those protections applied to citizens rather than to aliens, they served as a limitation on the absolute sovereignty of States that was

no longer international law, since it does not govern the relations between these States, but imposes on them obligations toward their own subjects. The right thus created perhaps qualifies as a genuine law of mankind [droit humain] . . . . To be rigorously exact, it is necessary to say that we find ourselves in the presence of a law of mankind . . . tending manifestly toward universality” (Recueil des cours, vol. 1, at 367-368, translated from French).

Mandelstam proceeded to trace the intellectual history of human rights and to identify past interventions and limitations on sovereignty that had been justified by the invocation of certain superior rights of persons under the State’s control. Six years later, Mandelstam would be the rapporteur for the drafting of the Déclaration des droits internationaux de l’homme by L’Institut de Droit international. The Academy went on to offer two more courses on international human rights before the Second World War.

Similarly, while the student of international law might be excused for concluding that the debate over the individual as a subject of international law is a post-War (or later) phenomenon, in 1929 the course L’Individu et le droit international identified the topic as “one of the most-discussed problems of our discipline” (Recueil des cours, vol. 30, at 195, translated from French).

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Academy introduced its first course on international criminal law (La Justice Penale Internationale) in 1925, taught by Spanish jurist Quintiliano Saldaña. Hersch Lauterpacht apparently also taught a course on the subject at the London School of Economics in the 1920s. In his Hague Academy course in 1937, Lauterpacht advocated the creation an “International Criminal Court” to strip away the sovereign veil of the State and enable the “international criminal responsibility of the individuals to whom liability for the criminal act can feasibly be traced” (quoted in Koskenniemi, at 814).

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, much attention was devoted to aggression and the jus ad bello, followed by increased examination of the law of State succession and related topics during the decolonization period.

Beginning around the same time, the courses reveal greater interest in the protection of foreign investment. In the mid-1950s—at least five years before Aron Broches of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development developed the idea for a multilateral agreement that would become the ICSID Convention and before Germany and Pakistan concluded the world’s first bilateral investment treaty—the first course was given on foreign investment protection, La protection de la propriété privée en droit international public. More courses on the topic followed shortly thereafter.

What stands out in the course catalogue since then is more the reflection of current events than any prevision of future developments, to wit:

  • The space race left its mark on the Academy, producing the course Droit international cosmique in 1959 and another course on the legal regime of outer space in 1963, shortly after the Soviet Union upped the ante with the first moon landing.
  • In 1989, shortly after Al Qaeda’s founding, Gilbert Guillaume gave the course Terrorisme et Droit International.
  • In 1990, when perestroika was in full swing and one year before the dissolution of the USSR, a course was offered on Soviet Joint Enterprises with Capitalist Firms and Other Joint Ventures Between East and West in two subparts: The Eastern Point of View and The Western Point of View.
  • In 1992, the year before the conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty, European integration pervaded the course agenda.
  • In 1999, once the original ad hoc criminal tribunals were well underway, and as momentum built toward the creation of the International Criminal Court, Julio Barboza gave a course on International Criminal Law.
  • In 2005, V.S. Mani traced the rise of and controversy surrounding the doctrine of humanitarian intervention in the course Humanitarian Intervention Today.

One can’t help but wonder why the courses in more recent decades do not leave a prophetic impression similar to that of earlier courses. Perhaps it is because international law has progressed more rapidly in recent times, taking up in relatively quick succession ideas whose implementation long seemed unattainable (such as international criminal law and the rise of directly enforceable individual rights against States). Or, perhaps instead the observation is an illusion caused by nearness of perspective. It may be that an observer looking back twenty years hence will see in the courses of today the nascent development of tomorrow’s established doctrine and practice. Time will tell.

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