By: Léa Garriga-Lafabregue

In today’s world, we are facing various crises in justice, economy, immigration, and ecology. The global landscape is rapidly changing and those changes require solutions. International law provides a framework for modern international relations; it offers legal solutions to global problems through the development of substantive areas of law and court systems. The changes in our post-World War II regime are a challenge, and as students it is our role to examine current global challenges, potential solutions, and a broad range of dynamic issues in both public and private law.

The American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) and the International Law Students Association (ILSA) hosted the annual International Law Weekend (ILW) conference in New York City this October. This conference provides international law professionals, scholars and trainees the opportunity to re-establish their strong connection with the global community which they serve. ILW offered panels with a variety of subjects concerning the challenges facing international law, such as the ongoing negotiations of NAFTA, sequencing peace and justice in the Syrian conflict, the global persecution of lawyers, the recognition of the Crime of Aggression by the ICC, and using international law to advance women’s rights in the United States.

International relations were described as a cycle: a period of global regional fractures followed by the successful expansion of peace and cooperation ensuring the viability of established institutions such as the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and the European Court of Human Rights. The overview was that maintaining the Post-War order was simpler with the earlier generation still wounded by the horrors of World War II, and the change of generations brought new crises and challenges. A new cycle has begun, and we can face it by utilizing established international institutions and principles.

Washington University law students, faculty, and alumni with H.E. Judge Christopher Greenwood of the International Court of Justice at International Law Weekend, New York City.

Our international institutions are at least fifty years old, and international courts and tribunals undertake the pressure of conflicting expectations. Like Sir Christopher Greenwood, Judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), most professionals stay optimistic about the power of international cooperation and communication. International law remains a strong tool to avoid and/or solve conflicts all over the world. Forty years ago, adjudication was rare. The ICJ had one case and its reports were less than forty pages long. Interstate arbitration was not taking place and mediation to avoid conflict or the possibility of going to court was not taken seriously.

Today, international courts and tribunals are busy. The ICJ has 17 pending cases from different parts of the world and 43 States and institutions have taken part in various proceedings in almost every area of international law (even one regarding whaling in the Antarctic). The problem remains that judges can only take on so many cases and the work is piling up, causing delays. In order to address the work load, institutions need to adopt radical changes in the litigation working methods to deal with the volume of cases. Likewise, international institutions are facing the risk of fragmentation due to a lack of hierarchy, formal order, or stare decisis.

Professionals expect institutions to find a way to reform the rule of law and  improve qualitative enforcements.  While it may seem that international law is consistently in a defensive mode confronting populism and nationalism worldwide, Americans generally support the United States’ participation in the United Nations.  Preserving peace in a rapidly changing political landscape is imperative.  At the same time, modern-day challenges related to economic development, unprecedented health crises, refugee crisis, accelerating climate change, gender inequality, among other issues, require innovative solutions from both public and private international law.