Exploring institutions in international law

Karri Walker is one of 25 students who just returned from Geneva, where she took part in Institutions in International Law, a two-week study intensive and a flagship subject in the Melbourne JD program. She reflects on her experience.

JD students Tess McGuire and Karri Walker visit the United Nations in Geneva.

In reflecting on my experience of Institutions in International Law, it is hard to pinpoint just one highlight, as so many stand out. I have described the course to friends and family as ‘the best learning holiday that you can imagine’.

A typical day involved boot camp (optional), a delicious breakfast of pastries, visiting an institution and talking with 4 or 5 incredible experts, a swim in the lake, and a class picnic.

The focus at the institutions tended to be on international humanitarian law or international trade law, but other areas such as intellectual property and health were also discussed.

At each institution, we explored current developments and major enduring challenges such as fragmentation, state politics, and the often non-binding nature of international law. It quickly became clear how much respect our interlocutors had for the course and Melbourne Law School students, as they engaged in an open and frank discussion.

The opportunity for meaningful dialogue between students and guest seminar leaders created one of the most engaging learning environments in which I have ever participated, in large part due to the amazing people we met.

Some of the academic highlights for me were: grappling with atrocities such as torture at the Association for the Prevention of Torture; understanding the expansion of intellectual property through the development of disruptive technology at the World Intellectual Property Organization; learning about the lack of human rights that apply in non-international armed conflicts; and examining the intersection between intellectual property rights, international trade, and health rights in relation to the plain packaging of tobacco products.

In visiting institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization, we gained unique insights into international law that cannot be taught within the classroom.

We engaged with how the law and institutions interact through the framework of power and state sovereignty. The mock negotiation at the end of the course solidified this framework and our understandings, as we took on the roles of states and NGOs.

It is clear that thought has gone into every aspect of this course, from the boot camp as a part of creating a collegiate environment, to the picnic with invited guests to allow us to begin professional relationships on which we may build our legal careers.

The energy that Professors Bruce Oswald CSC and Tania Voon put in to the course was remarkable and meant that the learning experience was not only rigorous but also inspiring. I feel so privileged to have been taught by Tania and Oz and relevant leaders in their fields.

Institutions in International Law has enriched my experience at university through memories, learning, and the friends that I have made. I have left feeling truly motivated by both Tania and Oz and my classmates. I will cherish my time in Geneva and would recommend the course to anyone who is interested in exploring a career in international law.

By Karri Walker, JD Student

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