Traditions of international law

By Lianne Hall

For those who study the law, The Hague stands tall among its peers. The city has become the capital of international law, and the highest institutions dedicated to the legal aspects of international relations are found here.

Professor Sundhya Pahuja has just returned from The Hague where she served as this year's Director of Studies in Public International Law at The Hague Academy of International Law. This prestigious position at the global centre for teaching and research in international law is responsible for leading its annual summer course in public international law.

Professor Pahuja is the Director of the Law and Development Research Program at the Institute for International Law and the Humanities, based at Melbourne Law School. Her scholarship is concerned with the relationship between international law and institutions and the question of global inequality.

For over 80 years the brightest in international law have gathered at The Hague Academy of International Law to attend its famous summer courses. Since the creation of The Academy in 1923, with funding received from the Carnegie Foundation in Washington, thousands of law students have come from all over the world for the courses that take place each European summer: three weeks of public international law and three weeks of private international law. It's an opportunity to meet the great names of international law, to attend courses at the highest level and to connect with the important judicial institutions located just minutes away.

"It was a real pleasure to work in the majestic surrounds of the Peace Palace and gardens," says Professor Pahuja. "I was honoured to be working together with some of the world's most respected international lawyers to teach the next generation, some of whom will go on to make significant contributions to the academic world or diplomatic world."

Unlike a university, The Academy does not have a permanent teaching staff. Instead academics, legal practitioners, diplomats and foremost specialists from around the world are called upon each year to teach courses in English or French. Over 350 students attended this year's course at the Peace Palace, which is located alongside the International Court of Justice and the Bureau for the Permanent Court of Arbitration, two of the highest adjudicatory institutions in international law. 

Students also have access to the Peace Palace Library, one of the oldest libraries specialising in international law. "The multi-lingual library – the world's biggest collection of international law texts – was extraordinary," says Professor Pahuja.  

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of her time at The Academy for Professor Pahuja was the opportunity to gain an up-close insight into the Francophone international legal academy.

I have now begun collaborating with professors from Sciences-Po, the Sorbonne and the Free University of Berlin on forming a bi-lingual network of graduate students interested in the contemporary challenges posed by the differences in approach of the Anglophone and Francophone traditions,

Professor Pahuja's own research focuses on the interaction between the public and economic dimensions of international law as they affect North-South relations. Her most recent book, Decolonising International Law: Development, Economic Growth and the Politics of Universality (Cambridge University Press, 2011) was awarded the 2012 American Society of International Law Certificate of Merit.

Banner image: The historic Peace Palace at The Hague in the Netherlands

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 12, October 2014.