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

The Challenges to International Law in the 21st Century

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

The Challenges to International Law in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

This lecture began at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, 2016, and was given by Michelle Bachelet Jeria, President of the Republic of Chile, who delivered the 2016 Grotius Lecture; the discussant was Margaret McKeown, Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


By Michelle Bachelet Jeria *

I am honored to be here as the 18th Grotius lecturer, marking the launch of the American Society of International Law's (ASIL) 110th annual meeting. This lecture series, the product of a creative joint venture between ASIL and the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), is a privileged opportunity to reflect upon the shifting frontiers in the world and in law, and to promote new ways of thinking about the challenges that the current global situation presents to us.

I am grateful to be offered this opportunity and I want to personally thank the partner institutions that have conceived and organized these Grotius lectures: the ASIL, represented here today by its President Lori Fisler Damrosch, and its Executive Director Mark David Agrast; and the AUWCL, represented today by its Dean, Claudio Grossman.

The title of this year's ASIL annual meeting is "New Frontiers in International Law." The title itself reveals the intent to explore, discover, question, and analyze where we are with international law; what are the challenges; how to address what lies before us; and how we can do this on the basis of the norms, principles, and institutions that constitute international law.

Let me now offer a few reflections of my own on the new frontiers of international cooperation. I am not a lawyer; I am a physician, but there is hardly an issue in my public life that has lacked a legal dimension, in my responsibilities as a minister of State, President of the Republic of Chile, and as a former Executive Secretary of UN Women.

My comments reflect my own experience in these positions of responsibility, as well as the experiences of my own country, rejecting dictatorship, rebuilding institutions in a fractured society, addressing the need to achieve a nation that provides equal opportunities and access to justice for all; institutionalizing solidarity for the weak, the poor, and the elderly not only as a matter of charity, but also as a valid and legitimate expectation solidly grounded in the legal culture.

I do not use the word "legitimate" lightly, and as President of Chile I am very much aware that legitimacy, in particular democratic legitimacy, is essential in decision-making.

I do not need to dwell much on the concept of legitimacy in this knowledgeable group. It is enough to mention the important contribution by the late Thomas Frank, identifying the actors, the processes, and the results that constitute legitimate decision-making.

Central to a prosperous world is ensuring peace and security. These concepts are embodied in the Charter of the United Nations. But these universal commitments to peace and security, so foundational to the collective enterprise that is the United Nations, continue to prove difficult to achieve.

Today there are more than fifteen conflicts of different intensity in the world that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths per year. We are also seeing that today's conflicts are less likely to be only between sovereign entities--they now include highly militarized terrorist groups and other non-State actors. (1) These non-State actors present new challenges militarily, but also challenge the rule of law--as they seem particularly unencumbered by the rules of humanitarian law in times of armed conflict.

International humanitarian law subjects the conduct of military operations to strict rules, protecting those who do not take part in hostilities. No just cause can justify violating these international norms of behavior; no just cause can justify terrorism. …

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