Thursday, December 15, 2011

Inspiration and innovation in international law and politics, 100 years Nobel peace prize Tobias Asser

Guest-blog by Henri van Hasselt, MSc Leiden University, at the moment working for the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation

Commemorative Conference, December 9, 2011, Peace Palace, The Hague
Inspiration and innovation in international law and politics, 100 years Nobel peace prize Tobias Asser
The conference in honor of the late Tobias Asser, a hundred years after receiving the Nobel peace prize, featured a day long program with various speakers, presentations and panel discussions. The following is a selection of the opinions delivered by some of the most prominent speakers on the subjects of public international law and private international law. For a more detailed account of the life and legacy of Tobias Asser, please see ‘The learned guide of our nation. Tobias Asser’s pivotal role in international law and diplomacy’ by Arthur Eyffinger, presented during the conference.

After an interesting keynote address by Judge Peter Tomka, Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, stressing the renaissance and importance of International Arbitration in the present world, the first session of the day dove straight into the heritage of Tobias Asser and its continued importance. Among many excellent contributions, Hans van Loon, Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, pointed towards the difficulties presently facing the Conference. While being founded on the principles endorsed by Asser, the challenges are wholly different as cross border contacts nowadays involve more states, more members of society and more complex structures. Although referring to private international law, Mr. van Loon highlighted the central issue that would occupy most of the debate during the day, namely the modern challenges facing the international legal order and possible resolutions in the spirit of Asser.

The second session of the day was instrumental in this perspective. It concerned itself with the possibilities of a third Hague Peace Conference, following the tradition of 1899 and 1907. Joris Voorhoeve, Professor of International Organizations and Security at Leiden University, stressed principally that a narrow topic base would be crucial for its success. To start of debate, he suggested the conference should either focus on small arms, corruption or on ‘clandestine precision killing’, i.e. targeting individuals using unmanned aircrafts or drones. Expanding on the evils of small arms, Mr. Voorhoeve further applauded the example of the Ottawa Landmine Ban Conference, suggesting a similar, NGO driven model could be applied to a The Hague conference. Following these suggestions, Nico Schrijver, Professor of International Law at Leiden University, questioned the necessity for a new Hague Peace Conference given the fact that the world presently knows a permanent forum to discuss these topics, but agreed with the principle of focusing on specific topics. Critical of the ineffectiveness of the Security Council, the apparent failure of the ban on the use of force by states, he suggested to pursue compulsory jurisdiction for the ICJ but stressed that any Hague Conference should focus on state actors and pursue tangible results. Compared to the pragmatic approach by the first speakers, Dire Tladi, Counselor for Legal Affairs of the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the UN, took a more idealistic approach. Establishing that the legal architecture for global peace has only been modified slightly since 1945, while the threats and characteristics of modern warfare have changed significantly, he proposed a new Hague Conference should investigate the possibilities of a Security Council reform. While commending evolving mechanisms such as peace keeping missions, Mr. Tladi noted that the Security Council only operated effectively if the interests of the permanent members were not at stake and if there was consensus.

Following more and equally interesting sessions, the day was closed by Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Council of the UN, who beautifully summarized the proceedings of the day and integrated them with accounts from his own experience, both from a recent and more distant past. Central in his appeal was the wish that the legacy of Tobias Asser should not be lost and the importance of striving towards international peace should not be forgotten in the face of adversity. Tobias Asser, he summarized, did just this by aiming for idealism but applying pragmatism.

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