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Trivia: International Lawyers in Senior State Positions

Published on January 4, 2019        Author: 

Many thanks to those who suggested answers to my trivia question of earlier this week. I have put my responses as a comment to that post. I now have another question which relates to international lawyers who have held the highest offices of state.

There are quite a number of international lawyers who have gone on to hold cabinet level ministerial positions in national government. In the UK, we recently had the example of Dominic Raab who was Minister for Exiting the European Union in the second half of last year. He spent the early part of his career as a lawyer in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office, including spending some time as Legal Adviser at the UK Embassy in The Hague. I do not know of another UK cabinet member who had authored articles in international law journals (the Leiden Journal of International Law and Journal of International Criminal Justice) en route to being in the Cabinet.

Elsewhere, there have been a number of Foreign Ministers who had previously been academic or practising international lawyers. A prominent example is Hans Blix, who went on to be Director of the International Atomic Agency, had a PhD in international law from Cambridge University, was an academic international lawyer at the University of Stockholm, before he became Foreign Minister of Sweden from 1978-79. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who later became UN Secretary-General, had been Professor of International Law at Cairo University (and Visiting Professor in Paris) before becoming Acting Foreign Minister of Egypt also in the late 1970s. A couple of judges of the International Court of Justice have gone on to be Foreign Ministers of their countries. Nabil Elaraby, who had been a Judge at the ICJ (and before that member of the International Law Commission & Legal Adviser to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry) subsequently became Foreign Minister of Egypt for a brief period in 2011, before becoming Secretary-General of the Arab League that same year. Mohammed Bedjaoui, was President of the ICJ before becoming Foreign Minister of Algeria in 2005. Susana Ruiz Cerutti who was recently a candidate for election to the ICJ was briefly Foreign Minister of Argentina after (and before) spells as Legal Adviser to the Foreign Ministry.

These are all cabinet level government officials who previously had a career in international law. My question is whether there has been a head of state or head of government who before becoming such had been an academic or practising international lawyer. One has to define international lawyer though. My definition is that the person must either have published a book or article(s) on public international law; taught international law in a university; or practised public international law by holding a position that involves regularly advising on this branch of law.

To clarify, my question asks for people who were international lawyers before becoming head of state or government. I exclude those who turned to international law after holding these high offices. Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC who was Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1989 to 1990 later sat as an ad hoc Judge on the ICJ in the Request for an Examination of the Situation in Accordance with Paragraph 63 of the Court’s Judgment of 20 December 1974 in the Nuclear Tests (New Zealand v. France) Case (1995). After his political career, he wrote extensively on international law (see his SSRN page) on his return to academia, in addition to undertaking other international appointments that involved the application of international law. Though he had an academic career before going into the New Zealand Parliament, I do not think he had written on international law before his political career. One of the answers to my last set of trivia questions was Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen who had a distinguished career in government in Guyana before embarking on his international judicial career. In addition to being Attorney General and Minister for Legal Affairs, he served as acting Foreign Minister from time to time and was also First Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of his country. However, as far as I can tell Judge Shahabuddeen only turned to international law after holding those senior positions in national government. So neither he nor Sir Geoffrey would be suitable answers to my question.

To repeat, the question is this:

Has there been a head of state or head of government who has been an academic or practising international lawyer before holding these high offices?

I will also accept answers which include Vice Presidents, Deputy Prime Ministers or other deputy/vice heads of state or of government.

Answers in the comments box below please! 


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31 Responses

  1. Marko Milanovic Marko Milanovic

    1. Danilo Turk (prof of int law in Ljubljana, then president of Slovenia).

    2. Awn Al-Khasawneh (ICJ judge, then for a brief time the prime minister of Jordan).

    Can’t think of any others!

  2. Marko Milanovic Marko Milanovic

    Hm, there’s also

    3. Ivo Josipovic, who was prof of criminal law in Zagreb, but also did some international criminal law, and then became president of Croatia. He’s a composer as well btw!

  3. Henner Gött

    Karl Carstens, lecturer and later professor of constitutional and international law in Cologne in the 1950s/1960s, became Federal President (head of state) of Germany in 1979.

  4. Kriangsak Kittichaisaree

    Joseph Sinde Warioba, Prime Minister of Tanzania from 5 Nov 1985 until 9 Nov 1990.

    BEFORE his premiership, he got a diploma in international law from the Hague Academy of International Law in 1970. When he was Tanzania’s Attorney General (1976-1983) and Minister of Justice (1983 until 4 Nov 1985), he headed his country’s delegation to the 3rd UN Conference on the Law of the Sea and, subsequently, to the PrepCom for the International Seabed Authority & for the International Tribunal for LOS (ITLOS). He was elected Chairman of the G77 of these two forums.

    AFTER his tenure as Tanzania’s PM, Warioba was one of the first 21 judges of ITLOS. He served for only three years, from 1 Oct 1996 to 30 Sept 1999, being one of the seven judges who were unlucky enough to draw lots right after the 1st election of ITLOS judges showing that they would serve for only 3 years. (Seven other judges would serve for six years, and the other seven for nine years.)

  5. Michal

    Ferenc Madl, Hungarian President 2000-2005, was a private intl law professor before becoming a politician

  6. Martin Christensen

    Carlos Roberto Reina, President of Honduras 1994-1998, was a member of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1979-1985 (president 1981-1983). He had also previously worked as a lawyer in the ICJ.

    I believe it was under him that the Honduran State finally paid the ‘Velasquez Rodriguez’ judgments reparation and damages.

  7. Samuel Moyn

    Peter Mutharika, longtime Washington University professor of international and comparative law and current (2014-) president of Malawi.

  8. To the foreign ministers list I would add Bill Graham who was Canadian foreign minister (as well as defense minister) for a time.

  9. Petr Mikulec

    Vojislav Šešelj, the youngest doctor of law in the former Yugoslavia, assistant professor at Sarajevo and Belgrade Universities. Then the Deuty Prime Minister of Serbia and advocate (of himself) in the ICTY.

  10. Jan Klabbers Jan Klabbers

    Rafael Erich was professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Helsinki from 1910 onwards, and became prime minister of Finland in 1920, lasting a little more than a year in that position. He also sat briefly on the PCIJ.

  11. Noam Lubell

    Chaim Herzog, before becoming the sixth President of Israel, founded a law firm in the early 70s which at least today includes specialization in international law (but I have no idea if they did back then).

  12. Jan Klabbers Jan Klabbers

    Bahrain’s Hussain Al Baharna might also qualify

  13. Jan Klabbers Jan Klabbers

    And Pieter Kooijmans! Long-time international law professor in Leiden who served as Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, later also serving on the ICJ. A borderline case might be Bernard Bot, a diplomat who has published a PhD in international law (on treaty relations and non-recognition – very insightful) and eventually became Foreign Minister.

  14. Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito (currently IACtHR), twice Justice Minister, and later second Vice-President of Costa Rica.

    Presidents of Rusia, Putin and Medvedev, depending on how narrowly one defines practicing international law.

    President Obama of the US, considering his position teaching constitutional law in Chicago and previously as editor of the Harvard Law Review.

  15. Rogier Bartels Rogier Bartels

    Good start of the year, these trivia questions, Dapo (Happy new year)!
    Anthony Carmona worked for the OTP of one of the ad hocs (forget whether it was the ICTY or ICTR) and was elected and sworn in as an ICC Judge (although he never actually started in The Hague) before stepping down as a Judge to become President of Trinidad and Tobago.

  16. Quoting from:

    Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral, In the Shadow of Vitoria. A History of International Law in Spain, 1770-1953. Brill / Nijhoff 2017 at p.50-51

    “The Pidal plan, which, as A.M. Alonso notes, ‘served as a point of modernization
    for the teaching of law in Spain, and specifically for studies to obtain
    a doctoral degree, making the new doctoral thesis more attuned with the requirements of original research’, also established the first official chair in international law in Spain in 1845. This was initially assigned to a professor of
    philosophy at the University of Valladolid, L. Arrazola (1795–1873). However,
    Arrazola, a former Minister of Justice (1838 to 1840), who was, later, to briefly serve as President of the Spanish Supreme Court (1851–1853), and as President
    of the Spanish Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) of Spain in 1864,
    left the first official chair of international law for the political world early on.”

  17. Tamás Hoffmann

    Well, based on the original question I don’t really think we’re supposed to add foreign ministers to the list but since so many people did anyway, I’ll mention Krzysztof Skubiszewski, ad hoc judge at the ICJ, president of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal and foreign minister of Poland between 1989-1993.

  18. Gabriel Webber Ziero

    I can remember of a few Brazilians who may qualify:

    Mr. Ruy Barbosa: Brazilian Minister of Justice (1889-1891); Head of Mission at The Hague Peace Conference (1902) – PCIJ Judge (1922-1923);

    Mr. Epitácio Pessoa: Head of Mission at the Versailles Conference (1919); Brazilian President (1919-1922) – PCIJ Judge (1923-1930);

    Mr. Francisco Rezek: International law professor and legal advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Foreing Affairs; Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs (1990-1992) – ICJ Judge (1996-2006).

  19. Kriangsak Kittichaisaree

    Dapo’s question: Has there been a head of state or head of government who has been an academic or practising international lawyer before holding these high offices?

    So, no foreign ministers, VPs, Deputy PMs, please. Otherwise, the list would be very long. E.g., Francisco Rezek was a professor of IL before he became FM of Brazil and, subsequently, ICJ Judge. Jose Luis Jesus, a current ITLOS Judge, was a practitioner of IL (as a lawyer diplomat) before becoming FM of Capo Verde and then ITLOS judge… etc.

  20. Harlan G. Cohen Harlan Cohen

    William Howard Taft presents an interesting case. He was a highly recognized judge and Solicitor General before becoming U.S. President (as well as Chief Justice of SCOTUS afterward). Although I’m not sure he said much on international law in those capacities, he brought his legal expertise to his roles as Governor-General of the Philippines and Secretary of War, and was Vice-President of ASIL before becoming U.S. President. See Kirgis, Zasloff, and Coates for more.

  21. Amina Adanan

    Interesting article! Mary Robinson was a practising international lawyer before becoming President of Ireland from 1990-97. She represented the applicants before the ECtHR in Airey v Ireland (1979) and in Norris v Ireland (1988).

  22. Sienho Yee

    Wellington Koo was foreign minister, premier and president, briefly, of China:

  23. Marko Milanovic Marko Milanovic

    May I just say that the level of nerddom on display in this comment thread is positively inspiring!

  24. Kirill Koroteev

    Antonella Mularoni, ECHR judge and then Captain Regent (co-head of State) of San Marino is somehow absent. But she left the Court precisely to engage in Sanmarinese politics

  25. So, Epitácio Pessoa is the only academic and praticising international lawyer that became President of Brazil.

    He worked in the International Law Code drafts at the Pan-American Conferences before hold the Brazilian office of head of state and government.

  26. As Dapo’s definition includes practicing “public international law by holding a position that involves regularly advising on this branch of law”, I believe that Jan Smuts will also qualify. After graduating from Cambridge he was appointed as State Attorney of the Transvaal Republic (a position involving advising on PIL). He served as Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 to 1924, Deputy PM from 1933 to 1939 and Prime Minister again from 1939 to 1948.

  27. Monica García-Salmones

    With a broad understanding of international law, including banking, finances and corporate law, Chaim Herzog was co-founder of one of the biggest law firms in Israel specialised on these issues, practising lawyer and diplomat (among other things) and 6th President of Israel (1983-1993).

  28. Hannes Jöbstl

    Rudolf Kirchschläger was a judge at several Austrian district courts from 1947 to 1954. Subsequently, he became a legal expert in the Austrian Foreign Ministry and was involved substantially in the drafting of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955. In 1956 he was installed as head of the legal office within the Foreign Ministry. In 1970 he became Foreign Minister and was elected President (and therefore head of state) in 1974.

  29. Michael Fuchs

    Former German Head of State,Professor Dr. Roman Herzog,woh before thats held the Position of President of the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany.

  30. stefano marinelli

    Enrico Letta, Head of Government of Italy between 2013 and 2014, has a PhD in international law and taught EU law in some universities in the early 2000s.

  31. Apples

    William Howard Taft actually served as the sole arbitrator in the Tinoco arbitration between the UK and Costa Rica (1923 — one of the few legal cases concerning odious debts). Very much an international lawyer, therefore, in addition to ticking all the other boxes.

    Charles Evans Hughes, another US national, is also an interesting study: US Secretary of State, SCOTUS Judge, SCOTUS Chief Justice, Republican presidential nominee, and PCIJ judge.