A bonus for LLM students taking the this year was the opportunity to visit some of the main international institutions in The Hague, during two tightly packed days there in January 2017. The group of sixteen participating in the trip included students from Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and the UK.
The surprise of the trip for me was our first stop, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. We had touched on its work in International Humanitarian Law but it was probably the institution with which, as a group, we were least familiar. The talk from its Senior Legal Officer, Grant Dawson, was excellent and what was striking is the OPCW’s success in backing up a treaty with a verification mechanism which has achieved real results in substantially reducing chemical weapons.
We spent the first afternoon at the Peace Palace, stunning inside and out. It houses the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, to which states can bring their disputes. We visited at an exciting time, Costa Rica and Ukraine had just instituted proceedings against Nicaragua and the Russian Federation respectively.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration, also based at the Peace Palace, was established in 1899 as the first global mechanism to facilitate the settlement of inter-state disputes. We had a talk from one of the Assistant Legal Counsel and it was interesting to hear something of the PCA’s evolution over the years to its position now, offering a flexible framework for arbitration.
Our second day moved focus from state level to individual criminal proceedings and began with the morning at the International Criminal Court. As well as a talk and mini-tour we were able to sit in the Public Gallery and see the early stages of the Prosecution’s presentation of its case in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, alleged Brigade Commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Seeing the process in action added an extra dimension to our studies. We saw the care the Court takes to protect witnesses and the interventions of the Presiding Judge, Judge Bertram Schmitt, to ensure the Prosecution’s examination did not pre-empt future testimonies.
We crossed town for our final visit, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Matthew Gillett, a Trial Attorney at the Office of the Prosecutor, gave us a fascinating insight both into the history of the Tribunal and the practical challenges he and his colleagues have faced.
All of the institutions we visit offer internships and for anyone who was considering applying it was very useful to see what these might involve.
As a whole, the trip added substantial value to our studies and we appreciated the institutions facilitating our visits and the time given by their staff. The trip was also a chance to get to know better our fellow students and to have what we all agreed was an amazing time. We are grateful to the Law School and other Westminster staff for supporting the trip.
LL.M International Law student
Find out more about our LLM in International Law here
Westminster Law School will organise a one-day conference on the economic crisis, to be held in London in September 2015. The aim of the conference is to gather high quality research on the impacts of legal reforms in response to the crisis on economic rights. The aim of this enquiry is to delineate the boundary between individual freedoms and social objectives in seeking legal answers to the challenges of global and regional economic governance.
We invite submissions from academics and practitioners on all aspects of economic related rights in European and International Law. Papers covering the following topics are particularly welcome:
- The Sovereign Debt Crisis
- Investor actions in national and international courts and tribunals
- The impact of increased EU competences on national economies
- The evolving powers of the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve
- Austerity and conditionality
Interested authors should submit an extended, detailed abstract in PDF format to Dr Ioannis Glinavos firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 August 2015. The authors of accepted papers will be informed by email by 15 August 2015. Accepted papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Manchester Journal of International Economic Law.
All opinions are those of the blog post author and do not represent Westminster Law School or the University of Westminster.
A discussion on Twitter on the Euro being a political decision and the aims of the ECB started by @europeansunited as a response to comments by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing that Greece should exit the Euro, has reminded me of an analysis of institutional independence I included in my 2013 book. It is worth remembering that in discussing regulatory reform we must recognise that the regulation of the economy is not just a matter for law and economics. Regulatory interventions, or the lack thereof, can have severe consequences on the political economy of a state and changing popular perceptions of the functions of law can have direct effects on the democratic legitimacy of institutions. The substitution of state regulation by independent regulators is an example of the negative effects of de-politicisation on perceptions of legitimacy. Independent, non-state regulators are meant to achieve the aims of market support without abandoning the still dominant perception of the market as primarily self-regulating. The creation of allegedly non-political, independent institutions however means institutions isolated from the political and by extension democratic process. The ECB for example prides itself in not seeking or taking instructions from European Unon institutions or bodies, from any government of an EU Member State or from any other body, in determining its price stability policies. Considering however the effect on the economy that the setting of interest rates has, some degree of political input in the Bank’s decision making would be at least desirable, if not required. It is no wonder that the institutional independence of the ECB does not improve public perceptions of the EU as a democratically deficient structure.
A times of severe economic crisis and recession, selecting types of self-regulation over political control can be a particularly politically dangerous route to follow. As suggested above, using the example of the ECB, central bank independence ensures that monetary policy is determined solely by ‘economic’ concerns. This ensures the pursuit of policies deemed good for the ‘investment climate’. It also, however, dis-empowers governments; they are less able to control the economy or to pursue expansionary economic policies necessary to achieve wider social objectives. When elected representatives are unwilling or unable to deal with fundamental economic issues, there can often seem to be little difference between democratic and authoritarian government. De-politicisation creates a legitimacy vacuum which can damage people’s belief in democracy. Is it really beyond explanation that the Greeks, faced with the longest depression the world has ever seen, abandon traditional politics in favour of extreme, even fascist alternatives? Further reforms aimed at addressing these problems often create a new set of difficulties, not least because they usually seek to build on structures which are little respected. This risks a downward spiral that affects legal and institutional structures alike. If the traditional parties of power have become transmission mechanisms for policies demanded by international lenders, would you vote for someone so anti-systemic so as to be against democracy itself? In 2012 in two successive elections 7% of Greeks voted for the neo-nazi group ‘Golden Dawn’. Have we come to a point where the institutional structures of financialised capitalism point to an abandonment of democracy? What is one to make of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s pronouncements that the Greek Bailout Programme targets are to be respected despite the express wishes of the Greek people as marked on 25.1.15?
One consequence of the de-politicisation of economic decision is to make many citizens today quietly contemptuous of democracy. Either one considers that others are not competent to be consulted as to how a country should be run, or one thinks that whatever people think is irrelevant, as the political system is captured by an ‘establishment’ that renders democratic processes a sham. This nihilism is a very dangerous aspect of our times. Being disinterested in democracy is a threat to the survival of the only workable idea of government we have left today. After having tried different versions of authoritarianism, from paternalist dictatorship to self-interested oligarchy, the world seems -by a process of elimination- to be left with liberal democracy. This has been claimed to signify a so-called ‘end of history’ according to authors like Francis Fukuyama. While talk of an end to history is of course non-nonsensical, the question nevertheless remains: is there an alternative to democratic capitalism available? The opposing doctrine of course is not theocratic dictatorship as implied by easy to digest, yet empirically false claims of a clash of civilisations, but an evolution of liberal democracy along a different path. Such path cannot open however unless we are willing to re-examine how we got here and whether we want to use our democratic institutions to determine where we want to get to. Does Syriza in Greece and the efforts of Prof. Varoufakis point the way?
Dr. Ioannis Glinavos: email@example.com
Professor Audrey Macklin (Professor of Law and Chair of Human Rights, University of Toronto) gave a talk on the contemporary issue of citizenship deprivation at Westminster Law School on 27 November 2014. The transcript of the lecture is available to download in PDF format.