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International Law and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Policy Symposium: Closing Remarks

By Matthew Saul (University of Oslo)

As our blog symposium to mark the publication of International Law and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Policy draws to a close, I will take this opportunity to highlight one particular theme that arises from the discussions and that I think should be central in further research in this area. This is the theme of going deeper.

The chapters in the volume are built on a range of vigorous research strategies that combine doctrinal with empirical, which complement each other nicely, and bring to light many useful insights; not least, as we noted on Monday: ‘uncertainty in the law can be both a problem and a benefit, depending on how and by whom the law is interpreted; that international law is often at its most relevant when requiring and structuring procedures rather than substantive blueprints for reform; and that concern for compliance with the requirements of international law can be connected to the nature of the telos of the subject matter.’ Still, responses in this symposium demonstrate that there is often likely to be scope to go further in the analysis, both in the analysis of the international legal frameworks and the contexts in which they are applied. Two examples can serve to illustrate this point.

Consider Simm’s response to Aisling Swaine’s chapter on ‘Practicing Women, Peace and Security’. Swaine offers pioneering attention to the links between the WPS Secuirty Council resolutions and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Swaine sees potential in the interaction of these instruments, as a means of generating a normative impact that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Simm does not dismiss this possibility, but calls for caution, by highlighting that ‘membership of CEDAW is not universal and CEDAW remains the UN Human Rights treaty with the highest number of reservations, many of which are sweeping and incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.‘ This a stark reminder that whereas states all sign up to the same basic treaty, behind the scenes they can have tailored the obligations so that the way certain provisions operate can vary considerably from context to context. Simm’s comment brings into focus the importance of the information recorded on the UN Treaty Series website for a fuller appreciation of how a particular treaty will impact on a situation. It also might be seen to indicate a pathway for research into how the relevance of international law can be secured in the light of the importance of context.

Consider LeRiche’s response to Dustin Sharp’s chapter on security sector reform and international law. Sharp’s chapter is an important call for greater attention to the scope for adherence to international human rights law to be integrated into the processes of security sector reform. While Sharp is well aware of the importance of local context for what can be achieved, drawing on a range of practical examples, and considers that there is flexibility in the international legal norms that can allow for contextual sensitivity, LeRiche’s response focuses on on the specific example of South Sudan. LeRiche’s analysis includes highlighting how in this context ‘corruption is not always straightforwardly corruption. The apparent personal accumulation of wealth by senior officials in some situations is part of a wider distribution of wealth to network of society; a society where customary approaches have be dominant in most people’s notion of security and survival, not the sate.’  LeRiche’s response illuminates vividly the challenges of working out what would be a useful contextually specific approach, when the assumptions of key concepts must also be reconstructed. For such situations, if international law is not simply to be forgotten, there is a need for greater attention to how contexts come to be known in both the development and application of international law.

In closing, let me reiterate our thanks to all the contributors and the editors of International Law Observer for making this symposium possible. We are launching a book series with Routledge on Post-Conflict Law and Justice to help to highlight and encourage scholarship in this area. Please get in touch if you have a project you are working on and might be interested in having considered for publication.

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