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

Transnational Professional Ethics

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

Transnational Professional Ethics

Article excerpt

This panel was convened at 3:00 p.m., on Friday, April 1, 2016, with introductory remarks by ASIL President Lori Fisler Damrosch, Karen Vagts, and by its moderator Catherine Rogers of Penn State School of Law, who introduced the panelists: Catherine Amirfar of the U.S. Department of State; Christina Parajon Skinner of Columbia Law School; Cecily Rose of Leiden Law School; and Stephan W. Schill of the University of Amsterdam. A summary prepared by Douglas Cantwell is also included, together with the hypothetical discussed by the panelists.


As ASIL President, I am pleased to welcome you to the first annual Detlev F. Vagts Roundtable, which has been made possible through the generosity of the family of the late Professor Vagts in commemoration of the life and work of one of the most influential figures in the history of the American Society over the decades spanning the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Det Vagts was a mentor to me personally, as he was to generations of students, practitioners, and professors of international law. In the life of this Society, he played a leading role as a long-time member of the AJIL Board of Editors from 1978 until his death in 2013, as editor of the Journal's book review section from the mid-1980s until 1993, and then for five years as Co-Editor in Chief, together with Theodor Meron.

A Festschrift in Detlev's honor published in 2010 drew together many of his former students and colleagues to celebrate different facets of his career at the intersections of public and private international law, international economic law, transnational law, history, and legal ethics. (1) I recommend that volume to you, along with the memorial tribute by Peter Trooboff published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal. (2)

Among Detlev's many intellectual contributions, today's inaugural Roundtable focuses on the theme of Transnational Professional Ethics. Detlev wrote a leading article on that topic, published in the Journal under the title of "The International Legal Profession: A Need for More Governance?" (3) Although the title carries a question mark, there was no question in Detlev's mind that the need was profound, and that this Society should take up the challenge of beginning to fill it. As a leader of the Society and of the Journal, he raised his voice on numerous occasions to draw attention to the obligations of lawyers in the ethical realm and the special professional responsibilities of lawyers who practice across national boundaries or in international tribunals.

Detlev's father, Alfred Vagts, was a historian and political refugee from Nazi Germany who left Germany in 1933 with his family when Detlev was a small child. Alfred's wife, Miriam Beard Vagts (the daughter of historians Charles and Mary Beard), was herself a talented historian, writer, and journalist (one of the first women to attend the Columbia School of Journalism and frequent contributor to the New York Times). Both Alfred and Miriam were the objects of Nazi decrees terminating their German citizenship and confiscating their property. (Alfred and Detlev Vagts would in due course coauthor an AJIL article on "The Balance of Power in International Law: A History of an Idea," (4) a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the intellectual history of our discipline.) Detlev would eventually write important scholarship scrutinizing the distortions of international law during the Third Reich, with particular attention to the role of international lawyers and law professors during the Nazi period. (5)

In the last decade of his life, deeply troubled by the involvement of American lawyers and law professors in the preparation of legal memoranda in purported justification of techniques of coercive interrogation that the world understands as torture, and profoundly concerned about the professional obligations of lawyers in respect of conduct violative of international law, Detlev took up his pen to recall the lessons of Nuremberg for the present generation. …

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