Towards International Peace Through International Law

The 2014 Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law held its annual conference in Canberra, at the Australian National University’s impressive University House, which resembles a church due to the impressive artwork lining the walls. The President of ANZSIL, Anne Orford, provided a fantastic program including panels on Commerce, Investment, Arbitration, Adjudication, Whaling in the Antarctic, Ukraine and Crimea, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights, the Use of Force, Reform of the UN Security Council, Trade and Security, Arms Control and Disarmament, and International Law and the Politics of Peace. The full program is available here. I was struck by the speeches of the keynote speakers: Hilary Charlesworth reflected on her experience as an ad hoc judge at the ICJ in the Whaling Case, noting that some of the male judges were a bit concerned about her interest in feminist legal theory, asking her if she would be seeking to defend “lady whales”, revealing that even the most prominent international legal institutions still remain resistant to “others”. Joseph Weiler described how he sadly decided to end his Harvard seminar on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict because in all the years he ran it not one student managed to place prior convictions aside in order to be able to argue on behalf of the counter view. This left him demoralized in relation to the potential for peace in the region.

As stated by Volker Turk, Director of International Protection at UNHCR, in an opinion piece in the International Journal of Refugee Law: “From a psychological perspective, we know that human beings can be quick to judge, fear and even hate the unknown, the ‘other’-people who are different. We are inclined to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’, based on religion, gender, race or even eye colour, to boost our self-esteem, to conform to the majority group or simply to scapegoat the ‘other’. Moreover, majority members may not come to the defence of the minority out of fear of being executed or harmed themselves. Fortunately, research shows that prejudices are mutable and, when shedding light on them through mindfulness, it is possible to overcome them.”

Anne Orford remarked that a conference participant suggested that the title of the conference should be changed to “Towards International Law Through International Peace”. I suggest that we focus on combating discrimination in order to achieve peace which will in turn strengthen the potential for realizing the aspirations of international law.

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