Nika Salamunić

Undergraduate student, Faculty of Law, University of Maribor


I had had the honor to be able to attend the IBA-ELSA Law Students` Conference 2016 on the topic International Courts and Tribunals, at the Queen Mary University of London, 12 -13 November 2016, as a delegate of ELSA Slovenia.

The Conference Co-Chairs were Mr. Armin Khoshnewiszadeh (Co-Chair, IBA Law Student` Committee, Oslo), Mr. Nigel Micalef (Vice President for Seminars and Conferences, ELSA International, Brussels) and Ms. Vaneeta Sharma (Co-Vice Chair, IBA Law Students` Comittee, London).

The first day of the Conference started with a warm welcome by the IBA Law Students` Comittee and the European Law Students` Association (ELSA), followed by opening remarks by the first of many prominent speakers, Mr. Stephen Denyer (Law Society of England and Wales, London; SPPI Secretary-Treasurer).

Session one, The history and structure of international courts and tribunals, was held by Mr. Lennart Poulsen (9 Bedford Row International, London). He presented the history of the international judicial system in the context of international dispute resolution, mentioning the Nürnberg trial and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. The beginnings of international tribunals go back to the 15. century to the Holy Roman Empire, where Peter von Hagenbach was prosecuted for violating the laws of God and man. This was followed by an examination of the present structure of international courts and tribunals, their accessibility by state and non-state actors, their relationship with each other and issues arising from  their proliferation such as overlapping jurisdiction and fragmentation of the international legal system. The presentation gave a great overview of the topic, giving a solid foundation to the discussion that followed afterwards.

A comparative look at the jurisdiction and admissibility criteria in international courts and tribunals was the title of Session 2, chaired by Mr. Yarik Kryvoi (University of West London, London). The speakers, Mr. Filippo Fontanelli (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh), Mr. Murilo Lubambo de Melo (University College of London, London), Mr. Triestino Mariniello (Edge Hill University, Ormskirk) discussed and compared the work of  International judicial bodies, based on their jurisdiction and admissibility criteria. The core of teh discussion were the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) dispute settlement process.

The main focus of session three, The politics of the International Court of Justice, chaired by Mr. Martins Paparinskis (University College London, London), was the question whether the aim of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to promote a worldwide institution of impartial and independent dispute resolution, has been achieved. This has been subjected to debate through out the whole Conference, with its peak in one of the following sessions – understandable, since this could be seen as the most important question when discussing an institution as powerful as the ICJ, crucial for obtaining the aim set in the beginning and preventing it from slowly sliding to a different path, a path maybe unwanted. The speakers, Mr. Eirik Bjorge (University of Bristol, Bristol), Ms. Rosalyn Higgins, the first female judge to serve on the International Court of Justice, (Former President of the International Court of Justice; Bencher of the Inner Temple, London), Ms. Klara Polackova Van der Ploeg (The Graduate Institute, Geneva), discussed, wether the ICJ work was based solely on the rule of law, or do power and politics have, or have they had, any influence in its work. A very interesting question that had been brought up during this session was »How far do the politics of the court itself and that of states influence the practices and procedures of this monumental and significant body?«.

Session four, chaired by Ms. Vaneeta Sharma, with the title A career in international law was very informative for students aiming at working on an international level. International law is one of the most diverse and rapidly growing legal fields, that offers many job and career opportunities, as the ones presented by the speakers: working as a public law practitioner, working for respective governments, NGOs, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organisations and international courts and tribunals. The speakers, Ms. Andrea Coomber (Director of JUSTICE, London), Ms. Klara Polackova Van der Ploeg and Mr. Steven Powles (Doughty Street Chambers, London) shared with us their personal experiences and gave an oversight of what it means to have a career in international law, both from the aspect of the path to the career, as to the impact it has on ones personal life. I believe this session was an eye opener for many and that there were many students, including myself, who were very thankful for the speakers` honest presentation of the reality of what is dream career for many.

The second day started with session five, for me, the most outstanding session of the conference, with the title 14  years of the ICC: Successes and failures. The session`s Chair was Mr. David Hooper (President, International Criminal Court Bar Association, London). The speakers, Ms. Carla Ferstman (Director, REDRESS, London), Speakers Mr. Courtenay Griffiths (25 Bedford Row, London ) Mr. Sotirios-Ioannis Lekkas (University of Oxford, Oxford), Mr. Steven Powles, discussed wether the ICC`s work reaches up to the expactations and aims from the beginning and wether there are things that need to be corrected or done in a maybe different way. Personally, I found the speech delivered by Mr. Griffiths one of the best speeches I have ever heard. He highlighted the biggest issues of the ICC, the horrible consequences of when warfare gets assisted by lawfare, as can be seen in Lybia, and the big role of NGO`s in investigations, that should be done by governments and even issues in the institution itself, such as racism. Amongst his speech he mentioned that Russia, China and the US are not signatories to the Roman treaty and the ICC mostly convicts African cases. This session was both a warning and debate initiator highlighting what needs to be changed and taken into consideration to achieve real justice and give the ICC the power and path to achieve what it was created for: justice – dare I say before it will be too late?

Session six, chaired by Ms. Vaneeta Sharma, was devoted to the topic The lack of women judges on international courts and tribunals: a democratic problem? Speakers were Ms. Cecilia Marcela Bailliet (University of Oslo, Oslo), Ms. Rachel Jones (JUSTICE, London) and Ms. Philippa Webb (King’s College London, London). The first speaker, Ms. Cecilia Marcela Bailliet presented women judges on international courts and tribunals: the aforementioned Ms. Higgins, whom we had the honour to meet during session three, was the first female judge to serve on the International Court of Justice, appointed appointed in 1995, Ms. Fidelma Macken, the first female judge on the European Court of Justice, appointed in 1999, Ms. Merit Janow, appointed in 2003 as the first female member of the WTO Appellate Body. The speakers explained that though more women judges have come to occupy seats on international courts and tribunals, there still is a vast underrepresentation of female adjudicators.

The last session, number seven, with the title The legitimacy and effectiveness of international courts and tribunals, was held by the speaker Mr. Geir Ulfstein (University of Oslo; PluriCourts, Oslo). He spoke about how nations, agreeing to participate and accept the jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals, effectively allocate sovereign authority to these bodies and the many questions arising from this, including legitimacy of these institutions, democratic principles and again the effectiveness in achieving the objectives they originally set out to do. He also pointed out the lack of enforcement in international law and its affects.

The Conference was for me, as well as many other participants, definitely much more than simply worth going. I would like to use this chance to give praise to all the speakers and thank them for the very interesting sessions, speeches and discussions, as well as for so kindly answering all of the questions from the students. I would also like to express congratulations to the organizers for creating such a wonderful and important event.

Note: The Article is based on the information in the Working programme and list of participants, handed out at the conference and my personal experience and views of the conference.