Speeches and Final Statement

INTRODUCTORY SPEECH - Alain PELLET, President of the French Society for International Law

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Colleagues, Dear Friends,

First of all, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you and I must say that the participation in this Meeting exceeds our expectations both in quantity and quality. This is proof that the World Meeting of Societies for International Law responds to a need, that their leaders and members wish to meet, speak together, and exchange with other actors in the international society on what constitutes their raison d’être: the study, defence and promotion of international law – be it public or private, general or specialized. This was already the conclusion we had drawn from the Strasbourg Meeting; this is again the conclusion we draw from the attendance to this Meeting. And a clarification in passing: we have systematically invited all the bodies devoted to international law without exception and without worrying too much about political or diplomatic considerations.

What are those expectations?

Firstly, it seems to me that this Meeting, which will give us the opportunity to exchange ideas both during the formal panels that are proposed and during coffee breaks or meals, is a goal in itself. I am very pleased to announce that the Peruvian Society of International Law has already proposed to take over and organize a third Meeting in Lima in two years’ time. In the same spirit, we wish to revitalize the Global Network of Societies for International Law created in the wake of the Strasbourg Meeting and led by Professor Clémentine Bories.

Secondly, you may have noticed that we systematically speak of societies “for” international law. This is the official name of the French Society and some other sister societies, while most of the institutions represented here are societies of international law. I know that we French are often accused of arrogance; but it is not by linguistic “imperialism” or chauvinism that we have deliberately chosen this name. It has become clear to us that what is most important for our action is the defence and promotion of international law – and, in these times, it seems to me that it is in great need of it.

Last week, in this very room, Dame Rosalyn Higgins, who is kind enough to chair the last session of our Meeting, said she hated the calls for help for international law. I often agree with her; but not on that: there is no doubt that the notion of a “crisis” of international law is a bit cliché. Nevertheless, there is certainly a crisis of confidence in our discipline and there are many reasons for concern. The vocation of our societies is to try to respond to them and to slow down, if possible reverse, the unravelling of international law as it has emerged from the two world wars.

Of course, in two days, we cannot thoroughly go over all the elements of this crisis (or this crisis of confidence) or consider in detail how to respond to it. This is why all the speakers were duly informed that this was not an academic colloquium; that the interventions would be strictly limited to a maximum of eight minutes (and I count on the chairs of the sessions to ensure that this rule is respected without weakness); and that the proceedings of the Meeting would not be published in volume. As I said a moment ago, our ambition is different: to outline the reasons for concern – and, if there are any, those for reassurance; this will be the subject of today’s discussions in plenary round tables or in workshops. To share our experiences and reflect together on how to respond to these challenges both at the level of each of our societies and in cooperation with each other, whether within the framework of the International Law Association (with which we have no intention of competing) in respect of the national branches of this institution, or in some other way at an even more global level.

To this end, we will propose you to adopt tomorrow, at the end of our debates, a declaration, the draft of which we have sent to the various societies represented and a corrected version of which, based on the comments we have received, has been distributed in the two working languages of the Meeting. In addition to strengthening the activity of the network of sister societies, which I have already mentioned, one of the first joint actions we suggest would be to approach the Dutch government to try to ensure that the traditional grant to the Peace Palace Library, which is one of the main sources for researchers in international law, is not terminated or reduced as it unfortunately seems to be envisaged. For more information on this project, I suggest that you contact Professor Catherine Kessedjian.

One last word before concluding. Organizing an event like this is a very heavy undertaking – and especially for an organization like the French Society which has very limited resources both financially (by the way, a very, very big thank you to our sponsors which I cannot all enumerate, but the list is reproduced on the back cover of your programs and is now projected on the screen) and humanly. A special mention, however, for Jus Mundi, which is a new platform for researching case law in investment and international law and which will provide demonstrations for anyone interested during coffee breaks; Jus Mundi also designed the website of the Rencontre and the programme. I would also like to extend my special thanks to the Academy of International Law, under whose patronage this Meeting is being held, the Curatorium and its President, Yves Daudet, its Secretary General, Jean-Marc Thouvenin, and its Deputy Secretary General, Monique Legerman, for their unfailing support. And last but not least, I was fortunate to have the assistance of the Secretary General of the French Society, Anne-Thida Norodom; the Treasurer, Caroline Kleiner, and Clementine Bories already mentioned; and, they will not mind if I say “and perhaps above all”, of two wonderful interns, Etienne Lafond and Jeanne Dupendant, who were of extraordinary help.  That said, we have done what we have been able to do with the means at hand and I thank you in advance for your indulgence (and, in particular, for avoiding any procedural discussion: we are not at the United Nations, nor even at the Institute of International Law!).

An important announcement to conclude: you will find on the table where the programs are a petition in favour of our colleague Maurice Kamto, who is one of the great African internationalists; he is imprisoned in Cameroon, with many of his political supporters, and there is every reason to believe that the rights of the defence and to a fair trial are not being respected; I strongly invite you to sign this petition; we will communicate the list of signatories to the Cameroonian Government.

Thank you and let the party begin! Because, despite the dangers that threaten it, we have invited you to a celebration of international law…

WELCOME SPEECH - Yves DAUDET, President of the Hague Academy of International Law

Bienvenue au siège de l’Académie de droit international.

Félicitations à Alain Pellet pour avoir conçu un impressionnant programme  et à son équipe très performante sans oublier les autres sociétés qui ont apporté leur concours, leurs idées et donné leur accord pour prendre en charge l’organisation des différents panels.


Dans le monde d’aujourd’hui où l’actualité récente nous montre que les principes les mieux établis peuvent être mis à mal, que des conquêtes patientes peuvent être brutalement remises en cause, il est essentiel de nous interroger sur la situation des thèmes majeurs du droit international. C’est à cette réflexion que vous allez vous atteler en ayant à l’esprit les profonds changements, parfois les bouleversements que connaît notre monde du XXIème siècle.

Ces bouleversements et ces incertitudes portent la marque d’une crise de la mondialisation et d’une crise du multilatéralisme qui a partie liée avec lui, et donc finalement d’une crise du droit international lui-même, crise venue des Etats Unis tels qu’ils sont gouvernés aujourd’hui avec de tristes relais assurés par d’étranges responsables premiers d’autres Etats tout aussi peu respectueux de la parole donnée, des engagements souscrits et de la continuité de l’Etat quand ce n’est pas tout simplement des usages diplomatiques de base.

Il est tout à fait normal que le monde traverse des crises. Elles sont souvent même nécessaires pour mesurer les risques, faire émerger les doutes, et conduire aux réformes qui doivent être opérées. Rien de tout cela n’est bien nouveau jusque là.

Ce qui semble aujourd’hui différent et beaucoup plus préoccupant tient à la concomitance  de dangereuses résurgences telles que l’unilatéralisme ou le populisme qui sapent les tréfonds de notre droit, qui s’attaquent à ce qu’il est, qui vont à rebours des progrès accomplis depuis un siècle et sont de surcroît associées à un comportement que j’ai le regret de devoir qualifier de « voyou » de la part de certains dirigeants qui, outre les manquements que j’ai dits, ont recours à des attaques personnelles et de bas étage dont le résultat est qu’ils contribuent à rendre le dialogue plus difficile et la solidarité impossible.

De manière plus générale et dans une perspective de plus haut niveau, une autre particularité marque la période actuelle tenant au fait que l’on sent bien que le temps a passé ou est en train de passer des grands principes issus de la philosophie occidentale, car le centre de gravité du monde se déplace vers l’Asie, il faut le constater, il faut aussi l’admettre (ce qui demande aux occidentaux un certain effort) sans pour autant s’écarter de la règle de droit, mais en veillant à ce que celle-ci fasse l’objet des révisions ou aménagements rendus nécessaires par cette nouvelle donne.

A cet égard, on lira avec grand intérêt le pamphlet de Kishore Mahbubani : Has the West lost it ? A provocation. Dans ce petit ouvrage d’une centaine de pages, ce diplomate, professeur de l’Université de Singapour montre que le monde entre désormais dans une nouvelle ère. Après une période de 200 ans de domination de l’Ouest sur les civilisations de l’Inde et de la Chine présentées comme les plus grandes économies de l’antiquité à 1820, celles-ci retrouvent leur suprématie après la suprématie de l’Ouest qui serait ainsi une simple parenthèse. Il déplore les erreurs fatales commises à l’ouest telles que l’intervention en Irak ou en Libye, le manque de considération et l’humiliation de la Russie et de l’Iran, la désastreuse gestion de la crise migratoire etc. et il appelle donc les élites de l’Ouest à saisir le sens de ces évolutions et à s’adapter aux nouvelles donnes même si ce n’est pas une tâche facile.

L’intérêt de ce texte étant qu’il n’est animé d’aucun esprit de revanche ou de compétition agressive mais tout au contraire, écrit par une personnalité d’une grande expérience de la coopération et du multilatéralisme et clairement habitée par le désir sincère que soient mises en œuvre des approches dans lesquelles tous se retrouveraient. Ces questions doivent être abordées frontalement.

C’est ce que nous ferons, je l’espère sincèrement, pendant ces deux jours où, je l’espère aussi, nous nous interrogerons sur nos sociétés pour le droit international sur la façon selon laquelle elles ont réussi ou non l’adaptation aux changements et si pouvons espérer savoir apporter notre pierre aux réponses qu’exigent les défis d’aujourd’hui.

Pour ce qui est de l’Académie de droit international de La Haye, elle s’enorgueillit d’accueillir pour donner des cours les meilleurs représentants de la doctrine du droit international public ou privé.  Cela ne signifie pas que les choix ne soient pas parfois discutés et qu’à  telle personnalité invitée  il aurait mieux valu préférer telle autre qui ne l’a pas été. Surtout, il est bien évident que n’être pas invité à l’Académie ne signifie pas qu’on ne le mérite pas ! En effet, on ne peut exclure des oublis ; il y a surtout des empêchements, des imprévus, et principalement la contrainte d’essayer de réaliser un certain équilibre géographique qui peuvent expliquer des absences surprenantes.  Tout cela vaut aussi bien pour les cours spéciaux que pour le cours général.

Le cours général n’est nullement une répétition du cours de droit international général au programme de nombreuses universités. Il est en réalité le fruit d’une pensée sur le droit international développée au fil d’années de recherches, de réflexions et d’écritures permettant à de brillants tenants de la doctrine d’offrir une vision distanciée et critique conduisant les auditeurs à une quête d’approfondissement de la matière ou, parfois aussi, à des remises en cause de certains de ses éléments. D’un cours général émanent un certain nombre d’idées forces qui reflètent le plus souvent les préoccupations du moment.

Aux messages ainsi recueillis par ceux qui les suivent comme ceux qui les lisent une fois publiés et voient leur savoir s’enrichir, s’ajoute un effet d’inspiration possible des « faiseurs de droit ». On ne peut en effet négliger, dans le développement du droit international, l’impact d’environ 130 cours généraux de droit international public ou privé auxquels s’ajoutent plusieurs centaines de cours spéciaux pour constituer dans un ensemble de 400 volumes du Recueil, exprimant la temporalité du droit international et aidant ainsi à son développement réfléchi au regard du contexte du moment. Sans oublier les livres de poche au nombre d’une quarantaine aujourd’hui !

Quant aux auditeurs de l’Académie, j’ai toujours été frappé de voir à quel point, à la clôture d’une session ils rentraient chez eux pénétrés par le droit international, convaincus de sa nécessité et de ses potentialités.

Dans l’organisation de ses programmes, il n’est cependant pas certain que l’Académie ait su parfaitement rendre compte de la diversité de la société internationale. Si la centaine de nationalités qui y est représentée par les 650 auditeurs de chaque été auxquels s’ajoutent depuis 2019 environ 300 de la session d’hiver est un indéniable succès, le même pluralisme ne se rencontre pas parmi les professeurs. Seulement un asiatique, deux latino-américains et trois africains ont donné un cours général. Maurice Kamto est programmé pour 2022. Est-il besoin de dire que nous gardons espoir en sa venue. 

Le reproche d’être trop « occidentale »  est donc parfois adressé à l’Académie. Cette situation a pu se justifier par l’origine européenne du droit international combinée avec la densité du tissu universitaire en Occident. Cette justification n’est aujourd’hui plus guère fondée : le droit international du XXIème siècle, même si l’influence occidentale y perdure fortement, est l’objet  d’une plus grande variété d’influences dont il faut davantage rendre compte et un nombre considérable d’universités ont été créées dans les divers pays du monde. Peut être ne sont-elles pas assez connues ou l’Académie n’y a-t-elle pas encore assez pénétré ? J’espère de tout cœur que la présente réunion contribuera puissamment à améliorer la situation et à ouvrir l’Académie à ceux qui, bien à tort, n’y ont pas encore été invités. J’espère enfin que, comme les sociétés ici représentées, l’Académie saura tirer des échanges qui vont se produire, les bienfaits de l’ouverture, des convergences, des coopérations, bref d’une forme de multilatéralisme !

Tel est, avec le succès des travaux dont je ne doute pas, le vœu que je forme pour toutes les sociétés de droit international comme pour l’Académie qui, encore une fois est honorée et heureuse de vous accueillir.

OPENING REMARKS - H. E. Judge Abdulqawi A. YUSUF, President of the International Court of Justice


Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. It is a great pleasure for me to extend a warm welcome to you all and to the “world of international law”, which you represent, to the Peace Palace where the International Court of Justice and its predecessor the Permanent Court of International Justice have exercised their mandate of settling disputes among States in accordance with international law for almost a century now.
  2. I wish to pay tribute at the outset to the organizers of the meeting, the French Society of international law and the Hague Academy of International law, and in particular to a man who has devoted a lot of energy, time and savoir-faire to bring together all societies and associations of international law for the second time in the last few years, Professor Alain Pellet, as well as to the team that assisted him in this task.
  3. This is an initiative which deserves to be highly commended, and it is to be hoped that the success of this second meeting will encourage others to take up the torch and to ensure that this “mother of all networks of international law” will continue to be convened in different parts of the world to take forward the dialogue and exchange of views started in Strasbourg in 2015.
  4. The dialogue among publicists, including those referred to in Article 38(1)(d) of the Statute of our Court, in the scholarly societies which you represent, or at a venue like this one, is of great interest to the Members of our Court. That is why several Members of the Court have directly participated in the creation of national or regional associations of international law. I was, as a young international lawyer, involved in the establishment of the African Association of International Law, already in 1986, in Lusaka, Zambia, at a time when no other regional societies existed. Later, my colleagues, Judges Owada and Xue contributed a lot to the creation of the Asian Society of International Law; while Judge Cançado Trindade did the same with regard to the Latin-American Society of International Law. However, this dialogue cannot and should not be limited to a mapping of the contours of the existing rules of the law. It must encompass the extension of such rules to the emerging needs of society and the challenges facing it. I was therefore pleased to find in the brochure for this meeting a page entitled “An important caveat” , which calls on the participants “to reflect together on the serious challenges facing international law and the role that societies can play in addressing them.”
  5. The challenges faced, by international law relate primarily, in my view, to its ability, its capacity to serve human society. We should indeed keep in mind that the rules of international law exist only because and for the benefit of the society that they serve. Thus, if the rules and institutions that have served humanity so well in the past seventy-five years are ignored, curtailed or set aside, it is the progress and well-being of humanity that will suffer. Some may think today that such actions only affect others and do not directly concern them; but sooner or later, they will affect all of us. That is the first challenge.
  6. A second challenge to the ability of international law to serve human society arises from its applicability or actual application to matters of common concern to humanity and to the commons. We have declared biological diversity to be of common concern to humanity, and we see it gradually disappearing before our eyes. We have declared climate change and the rising of the oceans a common concern of humanity, but we are struggling to have the law properly applied and extended to them. This is an area in which we need innovative and daring proposals and solutions by international lawyers. We no longer have the luxury of waiting to see how the practice of States evolves in these areas. We need avant-garde legal action. Above all, we need to put more meat on the bones and flesh out the rules governing matters of common concern.
  7. A third challenge is the ability of international law to grapple with the impact of rapid technological advances on human rights and freedoms. Today, individual freedoms, individuality and independent thinking are at risk of being affected or even manipulated by technological tools in the hands of few major corporations in the most stealthy and Orwellian manner. Legal defenses need to be built against abusive behavior arising from the use of such technologies.
  8. What is then the role of learned societies and associations in this context? I believe that in addition to scholarly research and its dissemination, such a role should extend to advocacy, promotion and awareness-raising with regard to the role of  international law in the daily lives of all individuals and  There is no nation on earth that does not benefit from the rules-based multilateral system which governs all facets of international relations today, and it is in the interest of all to safeguard and protect those rules. As national and regional societies, you need to convey that message and publicize it as much as possible.
  9. I wish you great success in your deliberations.

Plenary Round Table – New Crisis of International Law or Threat of Collapse of the International Legal Order

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS - Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs United Nations Legal Counsel


Distinguished colleagues,

This is quite a unique gathering, where practitioners and academics can meet, reflect and discuss the challenges that the international legal framework is facing, and I am honored to launch this first plenary roundtable.

I leave the question of the conceptual analysis of the existence of a crisis of international law to the academic world.  I do not intend to provide an answer to this question, but to listen, with great interest, to the discussions that will take place during the next two days.

This gathering provides a unique opportunity for me, as a practitioner, and as United Nations Legal Counsel I am directly involved in the Secretary-General’s decision-making, to engage with the international law scientific community on important issues concerning international law.

In addition, as a member of two scientific societies, the Portuguese Society of International Law and the American Society of International Law, I follow, as much as I can, these scientific discussions and any potential outcomes.

The round table to which I have been invited has a suggestive title: “New Crisis of International Law or Threat of Collapse of the International Legal Order?”

In this regard, I would like to reflect on such a premise. In other words, I wish to discuss if there is such a crisis or if there is more what we could consider a perception of the existence of a crisis.

There are different indicators of a so-called crisis of international law, which fall into two major categories: (1) States disengagement from the production of norms of international law, in particular multilateral treaties; (2) lack of enforcement mechanisms, in particular when international law obligations are not respected.


Regarding the production of international norms, and because of the time constraints, I will only refer to a couple of very recent examples, which counter the assumption of States disengagement in the production of international norms.

In light of the involvement of my Office in this endeavour, I wish to refer to the process regarding an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).  I had the honour to open in August 2019 the Third Session of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference, which discussed the draft text of an agreement, prepared with the assistance of OLA.

The other very recent example is the adoption, on 7 August 2019, of the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, known as “the Singapore Convention on Mediation”, with 46 States signing on the first day. This convention had previously been adopted by consensus by the General Assembly of the United Nations, in December 2018.

And I cannot avoid mentioning the annual Treaty Events which provide special facilities for the Heads of States or Government to sign multilateral conventions, of which the Secretary-General is the depositary, or deposit their instruments of ratification, accession or through other instruments establishing the consent to be bound.  The successive treaty events inspired a renewed enthusiasm for participation in these treaties by a growing majority of States.

These examples show that States production of norms of international law has not stopped. It also counters the idée reçue that States experience difficulties in reaching a consensus on questions of common interest.

I wish to end on this first point related to the production of norms by referring to the development of instruments of soft-law. As a lawyer coming from a civil law tradition, I am reluctant to discussions supporting an evolution from instruments of hard law to instruments of soft law, in light of the impact that such an evolution would have on the (lack of) assumption of new obligations by States.


I mentioned earlier that enforcement was a second indicator of an eventual “crisis” of international law, which would relate this time to the respect of international law, and to eventual reactions to its violation.

The inactivity or paralysis of international jurisdictions, which is often mentioned as an indicator of the lack of appropriate international law enforcement mechanisms, needs to be reassessed in light of the important increase in the number of cases at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the past ten years, with currently 16 pending cases.  In addition, I wish to note, as a positive development, the diversification of the cases, which now concern States from all regions of the world and refer to different subject-matters.

In addition, UN-established international criminal tribunals have been finishing their work and closing their doors.  There has also been a multiplication of the number of arbitration clauses included in international legal instruments.

Where there are some critical situations in international dispute settlement bodies, it is often due to causes that go beyond the institution itself, as it is currently the case at the WTO or with the International Criminal Court.

There are however some areas where international law is being challenged. In this regard, the incapacity of the Security Council to react in certain situations where, in accordance with the UN Charter, it would be its responsibility to do so, is specially concerning.  This is particularly serious when we are referring to situations where violations of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law occur, as we have seen these last years with regard to the situations in Syria, Yemen and Myanmar.

What is often essentially a political question or dispute should not be automatically translated as an international law crisis.  It should be read in political terms, at a time where political organs are not fulfilling their responsibilities.

However, States have also found creative ways of countering political blockades. As an example, we are assisting to a new trend, since December 2016, in the field of international criminal accountability.  In contexts where it is difficult to foresee effective judicial accountability in the immediate future, there has been an increasing appetite, at a minimum, for gathering and securing evidence of atrocity crimes. Such evidence could be used in the future by national, regional or international courts that may have jurisdiction.  This represents a significant new approach in the field of international criminal accountability, focusing on supporting the prosecution efforts of other stakeholders rather than conducting its own prosecutions.  As of today, three mechanisms of this nature have been established, the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria (the IIIM), UNITAD, for crimes committed by Daesh in Iraq, and, most recently, an Investigative Mechanism regarding the situation in Myanmar.  I am aware that the legal basis of some of these mechanisms, particularly the IIIM, is disputed by some Member States but still, they exist and they are working.


I will conclude my remarks by addressing another question to be discussed during these two days, which is the role of international law societies and their interaction with practitioners.

In this regard, substantial bridges between Academia and decision-makers in the field of international law should be built.  Decision-makers act under pressure, and react to urgent matters which require immediate action.  I believe that decision-makers would benefit from the cooperation of academia and scientific societies.  In this regard, I would encourage the development of focused discussions, as the American Society of International Law has been organising lately, which could be useful in decision-making processes.

In order to get there, different channels of communication need to be open, and academic networks and scientific societies should think about using existing fora, in particular within States, which are the ones discussing matters of common interest in intergovernmental meetings.  Discussions on frontier issues and in new fields (for example, cyberspace, artificial intelligence) are of special interest.  But at the same time, practitioners are constantly discussing and revisiting classical questions of public international law related, for example, to the use of force and self-defense, legal aspects of peacekeeping operations and interpretation of Charter provisions.

I will conclude these remarks by saying that from my personal experience, international law is still a fundamental component of the international order.  It is our collective responsibility to ensure that remains so.

Thank you.

CLOSING SPEECH - H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

Justice Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, President of the International Court of Justice,

Mr. Alain Pellet, President of the French Society for International Law,

Mr. Yves Daudet, President, Curatorium of The Hague Academy of International Law,

Mr. Miguel Serpa de Soares, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Legal Counsel,

Distinguished speakers, guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening,

It is a great pleasure to join you for the Second World Meeting of Societies for International Law – and a privilege indeed to be here with Dame Rosalyn Higgins – first female judge and first female president of the International Court of Justice, as well as so many other distinguished lawyers, female and male.

While I was preparing my remarks, I was looking through my notes on gender representation in the UN system, and I saw that there have fewer than 10 female members of the International Law Commission in its seven decades of existence. I look at the expertise in this room and think: really, we must do better and I hope that I can count on law societies and associations to advocate for gender equality and representation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to focus today on the health of our multilateral system, which is often described as being at a crossroads but which I fear might now be approaching a tipping point.

We are witnessing the rise of nationalist populism and extremist ideologies, as the world becomes more multipolar but also more polarized. We have seen the impact of this trend on hard-won multilateral agreements and institutions: the Paris climate agreement; the global compact on migration; the Human Rights Council, the WTO, arms control instruments – these are just a few examples that I’d like to mention.

We are seeing long-established international laws and multilateral practices – which have delivered so much for the world since 1945 – devalued by geopolitical tensions, unilateralism, and ad hocery.

And we are seeing a growing disconnect between people, governments and institutions. People expect us to keep the promises we have made, through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for example. But they are losing faith in our capacity to deliver for them.

Unless we reverse these trends, we risk damaging the values, principles, laws and systems that have been the bedrock of the international community for more than seven decades. And the irony is that these trends are occurring at precisely the moment when we need global cooperation more than ever.

Dear friends,

The Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the International Court of Justice were signed at the same time. These two elements – political and legal – form the mutually reinforcing core of our international system.

And over the past seven decades, the UN has provided the framework for international laws, norms and mechanisms on everything from the promotion of human rights and gender equality to the regulation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

These frameworks have often proved incredibly successful – the Montreal Protocol, for instance. Or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Who in the 1960s would have thought that the number of nuclear-armed states would still be in single digits today?

And the General Assembly, the world’s most representative and democratic forum, has been crucial to these efforts. Its Sixth Committee on legal matters, alongside the International Law Commission, maintain a constant focus on opportunities for development of international law in accordance with the UN Charter.  The Assembly itself plays a vital role in norm development, often serving as both the starting and confirmatory point for declarations and conventions.

The Assembly’s processes are not perfect. The debates we have seen over the referral of issues to the ICJ is a prominent example of the difficult nexus between the political and the legal.

But it is my firm conviction that the United Nations, and specifically the General Assembly, remains essential to the upholding and development of international law. There is simply no other forum that can match its representativeness and legitimacy.

During this session, the UN General Assembly  discussed a number of issues – tackling hate speech whilst protecting freedom of expression; regulating technologies such as social media and lethal autonomous weapons; protecting the environment during armed conflict; moving towards a Global Pact for the Environment, to name just a few – that are likely to grow in prominence and urgency, and that will need ongoing engagement with stakeholders, including law societies. Indeed, I know that you have discussed some of them today.

We need your expertise, your commitment, your voice as advocates of international law as the strongest tool for human coexistence, for weaving the balance needed for a sustainable world between economic interest, nature’s integrity and human dignity.  

Ladies and gentlemen,
It is clear that I cannot give you firm answers – that is something that both lawyers and diplomats are wary of! But let me close with a couple of opportunities.

First, there is growing recognition that we urgently need a stronger multilateral and rules-based system to protect our global commons, such as the atmosphere, the ocean, the cyberspace, and global goods, such as international peace and security.

And second, there is the UN’s 75th anniversary next year, which I hope will be an important inflection point for these conversations, and to engage new and wider audiences, as you have done here.

So, I commend you once again for this event and thank you for inviting me. You have gathered despite the headwinds we face – indeed, because of them – we need more scholarly debates, more analysis and more co-operation between sectors. We need to talk the talk, the refresh our narratives in order to connect the principles of the UN Charter with the contemporary challenges such as climate change, new technologies or violent extremism.

In current times, we need a strong, predictable, reliable international law order in order to deliver on the three pillars of the UN Charter, peace and security, human rights, and development, which has been translated into a very powerful contemporary social contract: the 2030 Agenda and the sustainable development goals.

I would like to end with a quote from Martin Luther King that I am sure is well known by this audience:

“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

And indeed, international law can protect those most vulnerable to abuse, oppression, and harm. It can be the voice of the speechless, including the voice of nature.

The rule of law has been the foundation of our post-war multilateral system. And it is the foundation we need for our future, to tackle the threats we face and to seize the opportunities we have to build a safer, just and more sustainable world.

Thank you.

FINAL STATEMENT adopted at the End of The Hague Meeting of the Societies for International Law

The scholarly societies whose purposes are the pursuit of knowledge about, and the promotion of, international law met in The Hague on 2 and 3 September 2019 at the invitation of the French Society for International Law.

This second meeting, which follows the first one held in Strasbourg in 2015, took place in a context of a trust crisis in international law. After the Second World War, international law has been established mainly on three pillars: the collective security system, multilateralism and the protection of human rights. Paradoxically, these pillars are being challenged at a time when States and human societies have never been so interdependent. Yet, the temptation of unilateralism and isolationism is being felt in a growing number of areas of international cooperation.

Scholarly societies share the convictions that the fundamental principles of international law remain fully relevant, and that common or coordinated responses to regional or global challenges can be brought on the basis of these principles.

However, international law must adapt to the constant acceleration and evolution of societies, of technologies and of the economy. This requires, in particular, the strengthening of regional cooperation, the use of soft law when the adoption of hard rules happens to be inappropriate, or the recognition of the role that non-state actors (sub-state entities including minorities as well as indigenous peoples, civil society, NGOs, enterprises, academic institutions, scholarly societies, etc.) can play in the construction of these common or coordinated solutions.

For nearly a century, Article 38 of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice and, subsequently, of the International Court of Justice has enshrined the role of “the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law”. The increasing number of scholarly societies devoted to international law is intended notably to promote the reinforcement of international law.

Each society for international law has its own history and organization. Indeed, they vary in their composition and activities, involving to various degrees scholars and practitioners, specialists in public and private international law. Far from undermining their common mission in the service of international law and its study, this diversity is in itself a richness.

The Strasbourg and The Hague meetings were an opportunity to affirm that scholarly societies which have contributed, and continue to contribute, to shape and consolidate the rules of international law, today have still an important role to play in accompanying, anticipating and promoting necessary developments of international law. In substantive terms, through bilateral, regional or transregional initiatives, cooperation among our societies could be pursued in different ways, such as:

– better coordination of work and identification of themes of common interest;

– joint resources mobilization for major international causes;

– incitement to exchanges promoting the expression of pluralism of legal cultures, approaches to international law and working methods and better mutual understanding;

– encouraging dialogue with civil society, the media, political decision-makers, national and international judges, and representatives of other academic disciplines;

– reciprocal promotion of key initiatives, works and publications of scholarly societies and of exchanges among international lawyers, in particular of the new generations; etc.

The Global Network of Societies for International Law (GNSIL), which was established in 2015, is an appropriate framework to develop synergies among our societies and to promote various activities, depending on needs and opportunities.

The participants in The Hague meeting express the hope that our scholarly societies will continue to meet at regular intervals. They welcome with gratitude the proposal of the Peruvian Society of International Law to host the next Meeting in Lima in 2021, the year in which Peru’s bicentenary and the establishment of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be celebrated.

The Declaration was adopted by acclamation at the end of the Meeting; its terms do not bind the societies represented nor the other participants.