Ian Brownlie was a legal scholar who was one of the world's leading international lawyers. He was renowned for his scholarly writings and his litigation. He was born in 1932, and died in 2010, killed in a car accident. He practiced law before the British House of Lords as well as the International Court of Justice in the Hague. He appeared in more than 40 cases over 25 years at the ICJ, contributing appreciably to the reach of international law into new states and subject matters.
Brownlie developed a reputation for integrity and independent thought. In addition to working on controversial cases, he defended unfashionable causes and clients. Stylistically, Brownlie was far from flamboyant. His understated approach made him quickly delve into the core of a case, ignoring non-essential facts and concerns. The judges at the ICJ appreciated and respected his style of advocacy, valuing his contributions to the progress of international law. Politically, Brownlie was progressive and inclined to the left.
Brownlie earned his law degree at Oxford, followed by a doctorate in the use of military force by states, also at Oxford. In 1957, he taught at Nottingham University, then moved back to Oxford as a lecturer. He was appointed to the professorship of international law at the London School of Economics in 1976. From 1980 until his 1999 retirement from academia, he held the Chichele Chair in public international law. In 2004, he was made a distinguished fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.
Although he was a prized academician, Brownlie's role identity was that of a practitioner. He established a legal practice, serving as an international arbitrator and as judge of the European nuclear energy tribunal. In 1979, he was elected an associate in the Institute of International law, and in 1985, became a full member. He was an active member of the United Nations International Law Commission, where he served as president in 2007. In 2009, he was knighted for his services to international law.
One of Brownlie's published books, Principles of Public International Law, has been widely read and translated into at least three languages. It is required reading for every international lawyer and judge. In his other writings, he promoted a practical and positivist approach. He covered the law of state responsibility, the rule of law, African boundary disputes and the United Nations, along with a breadth of other topics.
Brownlie also wrote International Law and the Use of Force by States (1963), Treaties and Indigenous Peoples (1992) and Basic Documents in International Law (1995).
One of his well-known successes was as lead counsel for Nicaragua in its case against the United States. In 1984, Nicaragua took the U.S. government to court for alleged illegal use of force and interference in its national internal affairs. Brownlie and his team persuaded the ICJ to take jurisdiction for the case, then obtained a winning judgment for Nicaragua.
Reportedly, Brownlie was especially proud of his success in defending Serbia in front of the International Court of Justice. His skills as a defender convinced the court not to hold Serbia internationally responsible for the Bosnia-Herzegovina genocide.
Another highlight of Brownlie's career was advising U.S. President Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis. He recommended that Carter freeze assets. Later, when Brownlie defended Nicaragua in the Hague case, the U.S. government, angry about his actions, withdrew from the ICJ's jurisdiction. For his part, Brownlie was glad that the court was independent, and he subsequently defended Nicaragua in other legal disagreements.
Brownlie also represented the island of Nauru against Australia. Nauru brought Australia to court over the damage it had caused Naura's habitat with its mining of phosphate deposits. He represented Singapore in a dispute with Malaysia over the rights to a group of islets. Several times, he defended Libya in disputes with the United Kingdom and the United States. When the Pope arbitrated over the rights of Chile and Argentina in the Beagle Channel, Brownlie represented Chile.
In addition to the ICJ, Brownlie argued cases before the European Court of Human Rights. There, he represented Cyprus after the 1974 invasion by Turkey, and he represented Amnesty International at the extradition hearing of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet.
Brownlie was the first to sign a letter to The Sunday Times in 2009 which denounced Israel and called its actions in Gaza acts of aggression.