As the curtain descended on the fifth day of the ILA Conference, foreign delegates began bracing themselves for long treks home, just as the jetlag was finally relenting for some. Meanwhile, Australian delegates were abuzz with the news of the political crisis enveloping Parliament House.
The last day of the conference shifted down a gear with half a day of sessions and an uplifting closing ceremony.
At the session on Children’s Rights, the Chief Justice of the Family Court, The Hon John Pascoe AC CVO, delivered a confronting presentation on child sexual exploitation in South East Asia and the growing commercial surrogacy industry. Although the statistics he presented and several stories he referred to were unsettling, he powerfully conveyed the desperate need for greater regulation and intergovernmental co-operation to address it. I think I can speak on behalf of all the delegates in attendance in saying that we sincerely appreciated his strength and commitment in sharing his insights on such nefarious and shameful realities that are destroying the lives of children across the world. The Chief Justice concluded with the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
In the session recognising 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the panel addressed the question of whether these are in fact the end times of human rights. The panel was unanimous in its belief that the human rights regime is not in decay, but rather the contrary. In the words of panellist Professor Geoff Gilbert, “Human rights have changed the world to such an extent that we don’t quite how to measure…not just at the international level but on the ground.” Professor Stephen Marks observed that human rights themselves are used as a measure of the legitimacy of government. The presentations of Professor Christina Binder and Professor Christina Cerna supported this assertion. Professor Binder argued that the European Court of Human Rights “has played and continued to play an important role in the realization of human rights…at the individual and constitutional level, in times of the war against terrorism.” Professor Cerna similarly concluded in the case of the inter-American human rights system;
“What is noteworthy and keeps me optimistic, is how fully Latin America has gone into the Inter American Human Rights system, how significantly these norms have become a part of the constitutional systems of many of these countries. As Monday’s panel on the ILA Columbian peace process demonstrated, the norms of the inter-American system played a central role in this process.”
To commemorate the conference’s close, the delegates were honoured with a presentation by the Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, Chief Justice Tom Bathurst AC. The Chief Justice spoke about the role that domestic courts play in upholding international law. He gave the example of private international law and arbitration in Australia. He postulated, “Domestic courts, notwithstanding, are the pillars in which the effectiveness of transnational dispute resolution rests. Courts ultimately decide whether to enforce or not enforce, and thereby enable or frustrate the operations of international law. To this end, it is important that courts uphold their role in promoting the rule of law in international commercial and public law disputes.”
Following this presentation by the Chief Justice, delegates passed six new ILA Committee and two study group resolutions, scholarship holders reflected on their conference experience, and the President of the ILA Japan Branch warmly invited all delegates with a humorous speech and a slick promotional video to Kyoto in 2020. He assiduously warned everyone that hotels will be in high demand during the coinciding Tokyo Olympics.
Perhaps it is suitable to conclude with the insightful words of Polish Scholarship holder, Mateusz Osiecki;
“being a member is addictive, I already feel very addicted. I will leave this place much wealthier in knowledge…and I must say that this event has changed me more than I could have imagined.”
I think his words struck a chord with many.
This summary was 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.