Monthly Archives: September 2016

The role of “commentaries” in the shaping of contemporary international law proved a recurring question in the just-concluded morning public plenary of today’s conference, “Humanity’s Common Heritage: 2016 Commentary on the First Geneva Convention.”

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First broaching the issue was the keynote, Jean-Marie Henckaerts (above). A Georgia Law alumnus, he’s the Legal Adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross who’s leading the ICRC’s multiyear effort to produce 21st C. commentaries on the meaning of the core instruments of international humanitarian law; that is, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their subsequent Protocols Additional. Joining him were participants in the panel that followed: speakers Major-General Blaise Cathcart, Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces, NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman, Emory Law Professor Laurie R. Blank, and Oxford Law Professor Dapo Akande, plus the moderator, yours truly, Associate Diane Marie Amann. I’ve the honor of serving as director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law, which is sponsoring the event along with the ICRC and the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law.

Soon to appear in print, the 2016 Commentary is available online here. At that website, the 2016 Commentary is situated alongside an earlier version, published in the 1950s by ICRC jurist Jean Pictet – and there’s a rub.

“Commentaries are not unusual,” Henckaerts remarked, adding that tomes exist commenting on nearly all the world’s treaties. Though true, the observation pretermits the sui generis status of the author of the 2016 Commentary – the ICRC, since 1863 a Geneva-based private organization that has led developments related to the shaping and compliance with international humanitarian law.

The earlier volumes “are ‘capital C,’ or maybe all caps,” Blank said. Others agreed, pointing not only to the ICRC’s unique status, but also to the fact that the Pictet commentaries  occurred when the intentions of the negotiating states parties – to quote Goodman, “what the framers had in mind” – were well within memory. Continuing her analogy, Blank said she regarded the 2016 effort as a “small c” commentary –  an extraordinary collection of expert analysis, but not exactly the same thing” as the Pictet effort.

Akande broadened the conversation, examining the ICRC commentaries within the context of public international law and treaty interpretation. Pictet’s work may enjoy “unjustifiable authority,” he said, adding that the constitutive nature of the new effort might outweigh any resulting loss of authoritative status. He then called upon the ICRC consistently to be “upfront” about how and why it arrived at its interpretive conclusions.

The points provoked multiple questions: How are treaties to be interpreted? What individuals or entities have authority to engage in interpretation? What weight do interpretations of states parties deserve – and with regard to universally ratified treaties like these, which states parties? What weight to a private organization like the ICRC? Nongovernmental organizations? And what about the victims of armed conflict – do their voices matter in this interpretive effort, and if so, how can victims be given voice?

The search for answers to these and many other questions continued this afternoon. In 3 consecutive closed sessions, about 2 dozen experts (including IntLawGrrl Shana Tabak, pictured at right) discussed: (1) the Common Article 1 obligation to “ensure respect” for the Geneva Conventions; (2) protection of the wounded, sick, and other specially protected persons; and (3) classification of armed conflict.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog)

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Humanity’s Common Heritage – norms codified in international humanitarian law treaties to which all countries of the world belong – will be the topic of a conference this Friday, September 23, at the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, Georgia.

The conference title derives from this observation about those treaties, the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross:

“We know that the values that found expression in the Geneva Conventions have become an essential part of our common heritage of humanity, as growing numbers of people around the world share a moral and legal conviction in them. These contradicting realities challenge us to act: to react to the suffering and violations of the law, and to prevent them from occurring in the first place.”

At the core of this daylong event will be the Commentaries on which the ICRC is now working. Published online earlier this year was the initial Commentary, covering the Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, as well as the articles common to all 4 Conventions. (Prior posts here, here, and here.) Experts will examine this 2016 Commentary and its role in the development, promotion, and implementation of contemporary international humanitarian law.

thumbnail_p1130913We’re honored that the Georgia Law alumnus leading that project, Geneva-based ICRC legal adviser Jean-Marie Henckaerts (LLM 1990), will keynote our conference, and also that the ICRC is cosponsoring the conference, along with our Center and our Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law. This student-run review, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, will publish papers by the assembled experts and Georgia Law student rapporteurs.

akandeDr. Henckaerts will be part of a public panel from 9:15 a.m.-12 noon in Georgia Law’s Hatton Lovejoy 0042401-14ABCourtroom. Speaking in that morning session will be: Oxford Law Professor Dapo Akande; Emory Law Professor Laurie R. Blank, an IntLawGrrls contributor; Major-General Blaise Cathcart, Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces; New York University Law Professor Ryan Goodman; and the cathcartmoderator, yours truly, Diane Marie ryan_goodman_photo_horizontalAmann, Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives and Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at Georgia Law, and also the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict.

Joining them in closed sessions during the afternoon will be additional international humanitarian law experts experts: Georgia Law Professor Harlan G. Cohen; Houston College of Law Professor Geoffrey S. Corn; American University Law Professor Jennifer Daskal; Jonathan Davis, a University of Georgia international affairs graduates and U.S. Department of State Attorney-Advisor; IntLawGrrl Kathleen A. Doty, our Center’s Director of Global Practice Preparation; Julia Grignon, Université Laval Law; Rutgers Law Professor Adil Haque; Christopher Harland, Legal Adviser at the ICRC’s Washington, D.C., office; Eric Jensen, U.S. Department of Defense; Michael Meier, U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps; Naz K. Modirzadeh, Harvard Law; Nicholas W. Mull, U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocate General Corps (ret.); Vanderbilt Law Professor Michael A. Newton; Sasha Radin, U.S. Naval War College; Professor James K. Reap (JD 1976) of the University of Georgia, who’s just been named to the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee; IntLawGrrl and Georgia State Law Professor Shana Tabak; and Creighton Law Professor Sean Watts.

Full description and details about the conference here.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes, the Dean Rusk International Law Center blog)

untitledIssues of foreign policy and national security remain foremost in many voters’ minds as the 2016 U.S. Presidential election has entered its final, post-Labor Day lap. We’re thus delighted to be welcoming an expert in this areas to our Athens campus next week:

Fresh from recent lectures in Oxford, Auckland, and Berlin, Ambassador Derek Shearer will deliver a public talk entitled “The Whole World Is Waching: Foreign Policy & the U.S. Presidential Election” at 12:30 p.m. this Tuesday, September 13, at the University of Georgia School of Law. Sponsoring the talk is Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center; cosponsors are the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and the University of Georgia School of Public & International Affairs.

Shearer, whom I’ve long been privileged to call a colleague, is Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles who served as an economics official in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and then as U.S. Ambassador to Finland from 1994 to 1997. He’s the author of several books and a frequent writer on and contributor to public policy discussions;  his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and International Herald Tribune.

In addition to the talk, Shearer will speak to students in Election Law and Strategic Intelligence courses.

toigoWe’re also very pleased to welcome Sue Toigo (left), Chairman of Fitzgibbon Toigo Associates and Shearer’s wife. She’ll discuss corporate responsibility with Georgia Law Business Ethics students.

For additional details, e-mail ruskintlaw@uga.edu.