There is a saying that “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” Most of you “young people” in the room have pursued your careers in international law in a period of its growing recognition as a relevant force in global policy, even on occasion to a degree worthy of incorporation into our own national law. Not to dwell on the old order, but when I went to law school at Yale, there was one optional course in international law and relatively few takers (I was not one even though Rafael Lemkin, the father of genocide law, taught there). Decades later in 1979 when as a new federal appellate judge I went to “baby judges’ school,” we learned zilch about international law.
Over the past few decades that has changed for the better, beginning with the cascade of U.S. lawyers traveling to Eastern Europe in the early nineties after the Soviet breakup to advise and assist on creating democratic institutions and policies in the newly emerging independent Eastern European countries. In that transfusion, we learned about other countries and international law as much as they learned about us. This interchange was accelerated by the emergence during the same time of the ad hoc international courts: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY); the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR); the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL); the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC); the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; and the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution, all of which were staffed in part by American judges who not only had to learn about and apply international and other countries’ laws, but who also infused significant facets of our own law into international law.
Organizations like IntLawGrrls, the American Society of International Law (ASIL), International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), the American Bar Association’s Central and East European Law Initiative Institute (now the Rule of Law Initiative), joined forces promoting international law as something American lawyers should know; law schools joined in, colleges attracted increasing numbers of majors in international relations, and exchange students from other countries multiplied. The Federal Judicial Center created a bench course for federal judges in what they needed to know about international law. Continue reading