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Rewarding international law

As the Nobel Prizes for the year 2007 are being announced these days (the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Friday, October 12) it might be interesting to note that this years Right Livelihood Award (also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) went to inter alia the former ICJ-Judge Christopher G Weeramantry from Sri Lanka.

Interesting from an international law perspective is the motivation given by the jury: Judge Weeramantry was awarded with the prize due to “his lifetime of groundbreaking work to strengthen and expand the rule of international law“. The jury furthermore stated that Judge Weeramantry’s “work demonstrates how international law can be used to address current global challenges such as the continued threat of nuclear weapons, the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment.” (Emphasis by the author).

The above quote most certainly points towards (although it surely does not limit itself to) Judge Weeramantry’s dissenting opinion in the advisory opinion of the ICJ concerning the Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflicts from 8 July 1996. In its notable advisory opinion the ICJ reached the conclusion that it did not have the necessary jurisdiction to give an opinion on a question posed by the WHO (due to the fact that the WHO – being a specialized agency of the UN – with its question encroached on the responsibilities of other parts of the UN system, resulting in the question falling outside the scope of the activities of the WHO – c.f. Art. 96 (2) Un Charter); the question reads as follows:

“In view of the health and environmental effects, would the use of nuclear weapons by a State in war or other armed conflict be a breach of its obligations under international law including the WHO Constitution?”

But while the ICJ decided not (or saw itself impeded) to elaborate further on this core question, Judge Weeramantry did just that in his dissenting opinion. He discussed the intimate linkage between state obligations in regard to health, environment and under the WHO Constitution and the more general question of the legality of use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. His central reasoning is that nuclear weapons violate state’s obligations inter alia in the field of health and environment.

The main conclusion to be drawn from Judge Weeramantry’s dissenting opinion appears to be, and this is what the jury of the Right Livelihood Award seems to have underlined in its motivation, how public international law can be utilized to address critical political issues and that public international law remains a force to be reckoned with in the design of a global community. Since this idea has maintained its prominence until today the decision of the jury of the Right Livelihood Award should be greeted with gratitude.

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