Leading International Law Professor Returns to Melbourne

By Andy Walsh

International Law expert Professor Hilary Charlesworth will return as a teacher to Melbourne Law School, with her first class to be in the new Master of Human Rights Law, launching in 2016.

A MLS alumna, Professor Charlesworth brings with her decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge almost unrivalled in her field.

Her career includes notable appointments as an ad hoc judge of the International Court of Justice in the Whaling in the Antarctic Case (Australia v. Japan) case, and chairing the ACT Government's inquiry into an ACT bill of rights, which led to the adoption of the ACT Human Rights Act 2004.

Professor Charlesworth has also served as President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law (1997-2001) and has worked with non-governmental human rights organisations across the globe.

It is through this lens she identifies a number of pressing issues.

"We have international standards and treaties and agreements but the critical issue is how to get these laws to influence the protection of human rights," Professor Charlesworth says.

"Countries are often happy to sign up to these standards but it is extremely hard to get those into practice."

Professor Charlesworth says it is critical that people from all parts of society stand up and hold those in the wrong accountable for their actions through human rights advocacy.

The international human rights system relies on civil society speaking out, including big groups and organisations, smaller groups, individuals and networks of people

"These laws do not enforce themselves. Advocacy plays a critical role in naming and shaming countries and ensuring accountability."

Professor Charlesworth has been lauded for her contribution to international law throughout her distinguished career. She rates her work consulting about and drafting the (ACT) Human Rights Act 2004 – the first of its kind in Australia – and her work as an ad hoc judge of the ICJ as highlights.

"It gave me an opportunity to see the ICJ in action. It was revealing and inspiring – a chance to see an institution I have studied from the ground up at work," she says.

All of this experience and knowledge will soon be at the disposal of Master of Human Rights Law students, in which Professor Charlesworth will teach Women, War and Peacebuilding in 2016.

"I was a student at MLS and my first full-time job as a teacher was there. In many senses, it feels like a return home, although it has changed a lot since I left," she says.

"When I was there, international law was a boutique subject at the margins of the curriculum. Now Melbourne Law School is a globally recognised centre for international law.

"I hope that students will get from me both an appreciation of the strengths and possibilities of international law, as well as a grounded understanding of its limitations."

Co-Director of Studies for the Human Rights specialisation Professor Dianne Otto is excited for the expertise Professor Charlesworth will bring to the new program in its inaugural intake.

"Hilary will join the outstanding team of international human rights lawyers who teach in the human rights specialty area of the Melbourne Law Masters program. Her presence will help to draw international attention to the program, and reaffirm its standing as offering the very best graduate human rights education in Australia and one of best in the world," Professor Otto says.

Professor Otto says students will often decide to take a human rights subject to broaden their horizons and be challenged in a different way.

"Establishing the Master of Human Rights Law is the next logical step: to showcase the fact that we offer the widest range of human rights subjects at the graduate level in Australia and to draw attention to the many eminent human rights scholars who teach in the program."

Banner image: Refugees in Horgas, Serbia
Credit: Dan Kitwood/Staff (Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 14, October 2015.