ILA Conference 2018 – Day 3: Technology, War, Climate, and Political Will

Interesting and thought inspiring presentations were abundant on day three, with sessions spanning ocean management, investment disputes, modern slavery, emerging technologies in conflict, investment disputes across boundaries, international law education and a new topic that the ILA’s Director of Studies is very excited about and had many people talking at morning tea, cities at the frontiers of international law and governance.

In the Area Based Ocean Management session, the panel discussed the use of MPAs (marine protected areas) in the Asia Pacific.  The session conveyed that while several Asian nations are making substantial progress in recent years to expand their MPAs, nations that have traditionally been ahead of the game, are starting to trail behind.  In New Zealand there have been missed opportunities during reforms in 2016, and at home in Australia, following reforms in 2017, we have seen significant regression.

A panel sponsored by the ICRC discussed the new technologies emerging in the laws of armed conflict. The rising imminence of cyber warfare, biomedical enhancements, the nuclear prohibition treaty and the legality of autonomous weapons were among the topics addressed by the panel.  In her discussion of the nuclear prohibition treaty, Dr Monique Cormier highlighted the rising nationalism surrounding nuclear possession, and the unwillingness of non-nuclear states (that nonetheless seek shelter under the ‘umbrella’ of nuclear possessing states) to ratify the prohibition treaty.

In another session, the panel addressed questions on the use of force doctrine and the evolution of its application.  The panel discussed that sometimes the muddied grounds between actions classified as ‘legal’ and ‘legitimate’.  The lawyers on the panel that have experience preparing legal advice to governments, including Sir Michael Wood, the principal legal advisor to the Foreign Office of the Commonwealth from 1999 to 2006, and Paul Cronan, principal legal advisor in the international law office of the Attorney General’s Department, were familiar with this murkiness of these terms, and offered their valuable insights.  The academic on the panel, Gabor Kajtar, made the convincing argument that the difficulty in unlocking the legal criteria to the right to self-defense has been significantly unhinged post 9/11.  All panelists discussed the language used in statements made by the UK, France, Australia and the US of the legal basis of their participation in the conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq and more recently, Syria.

A Canadian panel, in the form a question-answer session, forecasted the future of international law with respect to intellectual property, benefit sharing, indigenous participation in the UN apparatus, finance and the environment. Dr Marsha Cadogan advocated for the further consideration of blockchain technology in intellectual property to authenticate identity and provide a time stamped tracking within the value chain, which she says, could possibly alleviate counterfeiting.  Mark Jewett QC called for greater innovation in international economics law, to turn the tide away from protectionism. Dr Geraud de Lassus Saint -Genies, speaking on the Paris Climate Agreement, painted a candid picture of the Paris agreements as an exemplification of the real constraints and failure of international law to solve one of humanity’s most imminent threats.  Dr Oluwatobiloba Moody reflected on the need for greater political will in the indigenous, benefit sharing and intellectual property space, and Professor Brenda Gunn exasperated the need for greater indigenous participation on the United Nations to have a real, meaningful impact on the global stage.

In terms of the utility of international law, political will was the determining factor that was a commonly echoed.  As concluded by Dr Geraud de Lassus Saint-Geniess on the future of international climate law; as citizens, we need to start telling positive stories about climate change. Stories such as “We are losing the war against climate change” are not helping. We need to convey that there are lawyers trying to build the frameworks to make change and that these are beneficial to the community and to social justice.

Summary prepared by Madeleine Miller. Madeleine is a policy lawyer and freelance journalist based in Canberra.  Her endeavour into journalism is driven by an avid desire to promote international law in mainstream media.