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Debate on International Law: Its Importance and Place in Curricula

There have been a few interesting posts on our blog and elsewhere on two distinct, but related issues. That is the importance of international law and its place in the university curricula.

First I just wanted to expand a little on what my fellow co-blogger Ole W. Pedersen wrote in the last post on 18 September, drawing attention to an article by Posner entitled ‘Think Again: International Law’. Indeed, Posner’s sobering if not at times cynical remarks, force one to critically examine certain issues which oftentimes are usually and easily taken for granted. After listing certain highlights from Bush’s activity as the US president, Posner goes on to condone them, while at the same time rebuking Obama for not having done much to change the course. The examples used there are to some extent misleading. There is a huge difference between the unilateral modus operandi of GWB and his undermining language vis-a-vis some important institutional elements of the international system and the cooperative and supportive approach employed by Obama.

Posner posits that international law is not the best way to protect human rights. It is commonly agreed that human rights are better protected and primarily responsibility for their protection remains with the respective States. But it makes no sense to dismiss international law because the Genocide Convention has not prevented genocide, or that the  Convention against Torture has not prevented torture. With this line or reasoning I guess Posner will also propose to abolish criminal laws in the US or at least the death penalty, since that has had little or no impact on preventing murder?!

Another interesting topic Posner deals with is whether Europeans care more about international law than Americans do? First one wonders what is the author of this article talking about? Is it the European States? Is it European citizens? European institutions? All of them? And what does the word ‘Americans’ include? The main point to be made here is that regardless of whether Europeans (whatever that includes) care more about international law than Americans (whatever that includes), it appears that European States try slightly harder to operate within the framework of international law and that works better in convincing other States to do so. The question of reasons for that difference deserves its own post, which probably a political scientist would be better placed to write.

International law is a means to an end; and that end is to facilitate international intercourse in a way which preserves international peace and security, promotes sustainable development and upholds fundamental human rights.  In today’s interdependent and interconnected world, this ‘global village’, knowing at least some basics about international law is helpful for any student of law. So, yes, a number of international law courses should have their place in the curricula of the universities. Among others higher education is about widening one’s horizon beyond one’s own national borders.  It is not hepful though to put international law courses in the first year. As it is difficult to start building a house from the roof, it is difficult to study international law or teach it to a student that has not yet had a course on constitutional law, criminal law or civil law. Engaging in an in-depth discussion on an international criminal law issue with someone that has not yet had the opportunity to study domestic criminal law would be difficult, right?

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