Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Teaching and Practicing International Law in a Global Environment: Toward a Common Language of International Law

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Teaching and Practicing International Law in a Global Environment: Toward a Common Language of International Law

Article excerpt

This panel was convened at 3:45 p.m., Thursday, March 25, by its moderator, Mahnoush H. Arsanjani, former Director of the Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, who introduced the keynote speaker, Dame Rosalyn Higgins, former President of the International Court of Justice; and the presenter of the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law, Deirdre O. Schell, Legal Officer of the Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs.

LEGAL EDUCATION IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

The latter part of the 20th century was characterized by the consolidation of a transnational science-based civilization, and it is reinforcing and extending itself in the twenty-first century. One of the chief features of such a civilization is that knowledge becomes an essential source of economic and political power. In this civilization, knowledge constantly expands. So meaningful education becomes perforce an ongoing process.

As a practical matter, lack of education in any field, correlates with political inequality. Those who are fortunate enough to receive formal training in accredited law schools, under the tutelage of competent teachers, and continue through their careers to have access to libraries and research centers which enable them to maintain, update, and develop their knowledge, have more power. Others who aspire to become specialists in international law to serve their communities and receive some formal international legal training, but lack access to leading experts in the field and quality libraries and research centers, are unable pro tanto to serve their communities. Lack of equal opportunity for training among the specialists in our field correlates with inequality in the arenas of international law.

Because knowledge of international law is a basis for individual effectiveness, it is an important source of power. The opportunity for acquiring an understanding and appreciation of international law should now be open to all who want to learn it, as part of a program for ensuring meaningful equality. Indeed, many more people now need knowledge of international law, since it is no longer limited to interstate relations. International law influences domestic law, either directly through human rights norms, or by setting general guidelines as models to be adopted domestically. In a more subtle way, international law promotes, for example, democratic forms of governance. All this means that many others beside lawyers need access to knowledge and understanding of international law.

Some understanding of international law makes government officials more effective in the conduct of their domestic duties. It also alerts them to their international obligations toward their fellow citizens. For parliamentarians, knowledge of international law can alert them to the legislative obligations and limitations imposed by the world community. For judges, a window on international law and international judicial decisions can expand their horizons and alert them to their international obligations and competences. As for ordinary citizens and citizen groups, knowledge of international law, and, in particular, of their internationally protected rights, and the international legal obligations of their governments toward them, toward other countries, toward the environment, and so forth, empowers them to invoke those rights and demand compliance with them. Everywhere, understanding of and training in international law reinforces international symbols in their competition with parochial domestic symbols. The more international symbols replace parochial symbols, the better the chance for a viable universal culture of the rule of law.

In 1919 the brief preamble of the Covenant of the League of Nations framed the Covenant as the "firm establishment of the understandings of international law as the actual rule of conduct among Governments." Twenty-six years later in 1945, the more substantial preamble to the Charter of the United Nations begins with the words "We the peoples of the United Nations," and the penultimate preambular paragraph affirms as a goal "to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples. …

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