Essex Law School

Public International Law lecture series

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This is a weekly lecture series featuring judges of international courts and tribunals, leading academics, and practitioners of international law from governmental service, international organizations, and private practice from across the globe. 

The Essex Public International Law Lecture Series is a weekly lecture series featuring judges of international courts and tribunals, leading academics, and practitioners of international law from governmental service, international organizations, and private practice from across the globe.

The Essex Public International Law lecture series is founded, hosted and chaired by Dr Meagan Wong based in the Essex Law School. The series prides itself on building upon two important intellectual traditions of international law: formalism and international legal practice, and international legal theory including postcolonial and feminist perspectives.

We welcome all students, academics, practitioners and legal advisors to join us.

Previous lectures

Unlocking Slavery Crimes

Monday 1 November 6-7.30pm BST

Slavery and the slave trade, practiced for generations, were expressly outlawed by international treaties, covenants, and tribunal statutes during the twentieth century. Notwithstanding, today’s legal redress of slavery and the slave trade is mired in a conceptually myopic morass. Slavery and the slave trade remains captive to the structural deficiencies embedded in statutes and their jurisprudential misinterpretation. This lecture attempts to unlock the shackles of Slavery Crimes. in field.

More information and register here. 

About the Universality of Public International Law in the Year 2021 and the Years to come 

Please join us for our opening series on Monday 25 October 6pm BST

Find more details and registration here

The United Nations Security Council at 75

25 January 2021

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the first Security Council Resolution, our inaugural lecture was on the topic of The United Nations Security Council at 75 presented by Professor Niels Blokker, Professor of International Institutional Law at Leiden University (Schermers Chair) and former Deputy Legal Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

Watch the recording on YouTube.

International Law and Russia's 2020 Constitutional Amendments

8 February 2021

Presented by Professor Lauri Mälksoo, Professor of International Law, University of Tartu, and member of the Institut de Droit International.

In this lecture, Professor Lauri Mälksoo discusses the international legal implications of constitutional amendments adopted in the Russian Federation by an “all-Russian vote”, a quasi-referendum from 25 June to 1 July 2020. The most important of these amendments gives the Russian Constitution priority over decisions made by international courts and treaty bodies. The amendments also address Russia’s state succession to the Soviet Union. Another provision protects Russia’s territorial integrity. Professor Mälksoo discusses the background to these amendments, their content, and their significance for international law.

Watch the recording on YouTube.

Capitalism as Civilisation

15 February 2021

Presented by Dr Ntina Tzouvala, Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Law.

The "standard of civilisation" is often considered a historically important but currently irrelevant concept of international law. In this talk, I suggest that this optimistic narrative is misguided. I suggest that "civilisation" has never been a unitary concept subject to a specific definition. Rather, I approach it as the encapsulation of a much more fundamental and enduring argumentative pattern, one that constantly oscillates between two logics. On the one hand, a certain 'logic of improvement' promises equal rights and duties under international law provided that non-Western political communities transform themselves according to the changing imperatives of capitalism modernity. On the other, an opposing 'logic of biology' perpetually defers this promise of equal inclusion based on ideas of unbridgeable difference. Revisiting the indeterminacy thesis in international law, I argue that international law's constant oscillation between these two logics is reflective of the fact that the discipline reflects capitalism's tendency for uneven and combined development without being able to authoritatively resolve it.

Watch the recording on YouTube.

Fireside chat “Negotiating maritime delimitation agreements.”

22 February 2021

Lucía Solano, Head of the Treaties Division, International Law Department at Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In her capacity as head of treaties in the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lucía Solano leads the negotiation of all sorts of agreements for her country, including in particular maritime delimitation agreements. Lucía thus brings her insights from the negotiating table and will provide suggestions on how States’ officials should prepare for negotiating these agreements. She will also share her thoughts on what the content of those agreements should be, bearing in mind the interest of States but also new developments in the law of the sea and the concerns of the communities located on both sides of a maritime boundary. 

Watch the recording on Youtube.

Global Law and the Populist Backlash - How to think about them?

1 March 2021

Professor Martti Koskenniemi, Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki and Director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights.

The talk will examine the attacks on global rule by various anti-globalist, neo-nationalist and sometimes far-right movements in the developed west. International lawyers are obviously concerned. How should they understand these attacks and respond to them? Many have suggested that the attacks emerge from frustration by those “left behind”. Why is it then that suggestions for reform of international or European institutions do not interest or engage the critics? Is the reaction above all to economic deprivation or liberal cultural hegemony?  The talk will suggest that at issue is both a problem with the type of knowledge represented by global institutions as well as the monopolisation of the space left for politics in part by regimes of technical expertise and in part by a morality of rights that expects engaging with institutions that are felt as part of the problem. How is global law – or the idea of a “global law” – involved in these debates? Is it possible to imagine a global law that would not appear as a technocratic instrument for a policy of no alternatives? 

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea - Upholding the Rule of Law at Sea

8 March 2021

His Excellency Judge Kriangsak Kittichaisaree, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

As the author of the new book, entitled The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Oxford University Press, 2021), Judge Kittichaisaree will discuss the Tribunal’s intended role as the main dispute settlement mechanism for the international law of the sea under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Settlement of Disputes Part of which is the most complicated dispute settlement regime of all currently existing international courts and tribunals. The pros and cons of resorting to the Tribunal as compared with other forums that may have concurrent jurisdiction will be explained. So will the Tribunal’s limitations and unutilized potentials in rendering advisory opinions and judgments in contentious cases, including in new fields such as human rights at sea as well sea-level rise.

You can find the recording on Youtube.

The Travels of Human Rights: The UNESCO Human Rights Exhibition 1950-53

15 March 2021

 Professor Hilary Charlesworth, Melbourne Laureate Professor at Melbourne Law School and Distinguished Professor at the Australian National University.

This paper discusses a travelling exhibition designed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1950 to introduce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations (UN), General Assembly, on 10 December 1948. I will first describe the provenance of the UNESCO exhibition and then discuss how its images relate to the rights contained in the UDHR. While designed to shore up the claims that the rights in the UDHR had a universal origin, these images tell us more than their curators intended about the specificity of the human at the centre of international human rights law.

You can find the recording on Youtube.

Systemic Integration, Revisited

22 March 2021

Professor Campbell McLachlan QC, Victoria University of Wellington.

What explains the persistence of the idea of international law’s systematicity in view of its decentralised nature, constantly dependent upon the shifting consent of states and the vagaries of political will? To what extent can its systemic character endure and adapt as the tectonic plates of geo-politics shift? In this lecture, Campbell McLachlan critically re-examines the evidence for the impulse to integrate the various specialised sub-fields of international legal cooperation into a coherent system: the impulse that underpins the principle of systemic integration. He does so in light of the practice of states and international tribunals, which has deepened over the last fifteen years since his research on the principle for the ILC Fragmentation Study Group in 2005. He tests the fruits of this internal analytical perspective against both an increasing scholarly critique and the external disintegrative pressures that the system currently faces––pressures that appear to challenge the very value of global cooperation under law that underpins the idea of systematicity.

You can watch the recording on Youtube.

Modern Challenges in International Law

28 June 2021 

  • Judge María Teresa Infante Caffi, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea: “Engaging in a global legal scenario from a regional perspective: partnership and coherence.”  
  • Professor Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Queen Mary University of London: “International Environmental Law: Conferences of  the Parties,  Flexibility and  Legitimacy.”
  • Professor Patrícia Galvão Teles, member of the UN International Law Commission, Autonomous University of Lisbon: "Challenges to international law-making in a globalized and polarized world"
  • Professor Photini Pazartzis, Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens: “Adjudicating State Responsibility for Internationally Wrongful Acts: The ILC’s Articles in recent practice.”

 You can watch the recording on Youtube. 

International Law and the Politics of History

21 June 2021

In this lecture, Anne Orford will discuss her new book International Law and the Politics of History, which explores the ideological, political, and material stakes of apparently technical disputes over how the legal past should be studied and understood. As the future of international law has become a growing site of struggle within and between powerful states, debates over the history of international law have become increasingly heated. This lecture argues that the turn to history has become a turn to a particular tone or style of writing about law – a turn to history as empiricist method. The turn to history as a method for thinking about law is strongly neoformalist. Historical scholarship, we are told, is impartial, neutral, and free of political manipulation of the past for presentist purposes. Anne Orford argues in contrast that there can be no impartial accounts of international law's past and its relation to empire and capitalism. Rather than looking to history in a doomed attempt to find a new ground for formalist interpretations of what past legal texts really mean or what international regimes are really for, she urges lawyers and historians to embrace the creative role they play in making rather than finding the meaning of international law.

You can watch the recording on Youtube. 

ECHR Protocol 15 – Brighton Revisited

14 June 2021

The Brighton Declaration of 2012 resulted in the adoption a year later, by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, of the amending Protocol 15 to the European Convention of Human Rights, a Protocol that is set to enter into force, following the ratification of all States Parties to the ECHR, on 1 August 2021.
The Protocol contains five modifications to the Convention. Some changes will probably not present the Court with serious challenges or the need for extensive interpretation. There could be amendments, however, that will constitute the starting points of some interesting jurisprudential developments. The lecture will focus on some of these possible starting points. 

International law and the problems with high seas fishing - the future ahead

3 June 2021

The challenges of high seas fishing seem endless. Fishing is an economic activity that causes severe impacts on marine biodiversity and ecosystems. This is no exception on the high seas: overfishing, bycatch, discards, harmful fishing practices that affect ecosystems, IUU fishing, and marine pollution from lost fishing gear are environmental impacts occurring every day “out of sight” in our seas. The legal, political, and operational difficulties of managing the high seas exacerbate these problems. The climate change crisis, triggering significant changes in ocean dynamics, will only worsen the uncertainties.

International law has been a critical factor in the dynamics of global fisheries, and the high seas are no exception. But is international law responding to the high seas? Why is the system not delivering? Do we need radical ideas for the future ahead, or can we improve the system with the current forces at work? This talk will discuss some legal challenges facing the high seas from two connected perspectives: regulatory and institutional. Is this a problem of lack of treaties, stagnant state practice or simply poor compliance? Critical for the future of high seas ecosystems are little, decentralised organisations called RFMOs, with significant responsibilities but overwhelmed by all sort of problems. Do they need reform or support? The talk will close by discussing the role that a future BBNJ Agreement may have in regulating high seas fishing.

You can watch the recording on Youtube. 

Rethinking International Law's 'Peace' - A queer feminist perspective

24 May 2021

In light of today's endless wars, the UN Charter's approach to peace needs urgent rethinking. The international legal and political frameworks for securing and maintaining peace rely fundamentally on militarism, including the stockpiling of expensive and sophisticated weaponry and associated technologies - that is, 'enforced peace'. The international community has also declared wars on terror, on drugs, on poverty, and even on a pandemic, which has enabled emergency measures that enhance executive powers and curtail human freedoms. Have our imaginaries of peace become completely defined by the 'frames of war' (Judith Butler)? Is the deadly imperial, dualistically gendered, anthropocentric and militarized status quo the best we can hope for? Drawing on feminist, queer and postcolonial perspectives, I ask whether there are any remnants of opportunity in international law that may yet provide a foothold for rethinking peace as solidarity and redistributive economics, and the realization of social justice and equality for everyone.

You can watch the recording on Youtube.


The regime of international straits - freedoms, rights and obligations at stake

17 May 2021

International straits have always been important and strategic shipping routes for sea communication and world trade. Therefore, they received special attention by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which tries to balance the different and opposing interests that are centred around straits: those of States using the straits and those of coastal States of the straits. The point of equilibrium has been reached with the introduction of the new regime of the transit passage in addition to the pre-existing regime of innocent passage and through an articulated set of rights and obligations of coastal States bordering the straits whose interpretation pose a continuous challenge to scholars and practitioners.

Passion and International Law of War Scholarship

10 May 2021

Speaker: Professor Naz Khatoon Modirzadeh, Founding Director of the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict

In this lecture, I will explore how international legal scholarship about war, written at a time of war, ought to be read. Can and should we demand doctrinal rigor and analytical clarity, while also expecting that scholarship makes us feel something, that it connects us to the author, that it captures the intimacy and emotion that human beings experience in relation to war? I use two eras of international legal scholarship on war, namely, the Vietnam era and the War on Terror to illustrate key moments in the field that were typified by very different kinds of writing and the corresponding differences in thinking and feeling. I argue, in part, that in contradistinction to Vietnam era scholarship a particularly influential strand of contemporary scholarship on the United States’ War on Terror adopts a view that is aridly technical, a contextual, and a historical. In short, it lacks passion. This lecture will draw upon my article, Cut These Words: Passion and International Law of War Scholarship.

You can watch the recording on Youtube.

A common but differentiated law of international adjudication

6 May 2021

Against the ever increasing resort to international courts and tribunals in their multifarious configurations, the lecture addresses commonalities and differences between them. Based on the characterizing features of their discernible mandate, three major adjudicative clusters are portrayed. Namely, a) traditional inter-state and investor-state litigation; b) international human rights litigation; c) international criminal litigation. The law of international adjudication is divided up between procedural law stricto sensu - intended as the set of rules strictly governing the conduct of proceedings –, and the body of principles and tenets which provide for the contents and boundaries of the powers and duties concerning the adjudicative decision-making process – i.e., non- liquet, ne ultra/ne infra petita, jura novit curia.  While the commonalities of strictly procedural law throughout different forms of international adjudication are fall well into chartered territory, the lecture will focus on the different modulations of the latter set of principles in relation to each of the three mentioned adjudicative contexts. 

You can watch the recording on Youtube. 


Gender and the Lost Private Side of International Law

26 April 2021

Presented by Professor Karen Knop, University of Toronto

First, international lawyers have yet to participate in the ‘metropolitan turn’ among historians of empire: the study of empire’s effects on the metropole as opposed to the colonies. Private international law has the potential to make visible the effects of colonial, as well as foreign, law on gender relations and national identity at home. Second, feminists criticize international law as skewed by its development through grand episodes construed as international ‘crises’. The private side of international law offers historical terrain on which to examine transnational everyday life in the imperial centre, and the capacity of individuals’ cross-border legal arrangements to cumulatively re-shape their state. Third, feminist perspectives might illuminate private international law alternatives to core concepts of public international law and their contemporary resonance, specifically, its counterparts to nationality and to obligation between states. 

Further Information

If you have any questions or if you would like to be added to our mailing list, please do not hesitate to get in touch via the details below. 

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