Common Article 1: A Lynchpin in the System to Ensure Respect for International Humanitarian Law – Jean-Marie Henckaerts

In March, the ICRC released an updated Commentary on the First Geneva Convention of 1949.  This is the first instalment of six new commentaries aimed at bringing the interpretation of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977 to the 21st century.  In this blog mini-series co-hosted with the ICRC, three authors will share their perspective on some of the fundamental obligations enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and the evolution of the application and interpretation of these important provisions. 

Jean-Marie Henckaerts, ICRC’s Head of the Commentaries Update project, kicks off the mini-series with an examination of why the commitment by States to respect and ensure respect for IHL is more than just a “loose pledge”, and what measures States can take to fulfil this obligation.

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What right does Australia have to defend itself against terrorists? – Phillip Alphonse

In the post-9/11 zeitgeist, the ever-present fear of terrorism has reignited debate regarding whether a State has the right of self-defence against attacks by non-State actors. As Australia targets non-State actors such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda fighters in self-defence, the legality of such actions in international law must be questioned.

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Farewell to buried treasure: Claiming proprietary rights under international law in Ure v Commonwealth — Timothy Gorton


Whilst many dream of claiming their own island slice of paradise, few would have ever done so with the same verve as Alexander Francis Ure. In 1970, Ure claimed the islands of Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs — some 80 miles north of Lord Howe Island — in order to exploit the substantial hydrocarbon deposits he believed to lie beneath.

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How are the right to food and customary law linked? An Australian and South African comparison – Anna Bulman

Prior to colonisation, African peoples and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived in close connection with the land and environment, and governed themselves according to their own complex systems of law. With the colonies came completely different legal systems that were imposed onto the captured land, and which failed to properly recognise the existing structures.

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Life as a UN Special Rapporteur – Professor Surya Subedi OBE

On 5 May 2015, Professor Surya Subedi OBE delivered a speech at the University of Leeds on his time as UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia from 2009 to 2015.  Professor Subedi is Vice-President of the ILA Nepalese Branch and Member of the ILA British Branch.

The lecture is titled ‘Life as a UN Special Rapporteur’ and the ILA Reporter is proud to make available a copy to its readers. To access the speech, please click here.

The life of a Special Rapporteur is described by Professor Subedi as that of ‘an international diplomat, a human rights activist, a human-rights law academic, and a government adviser – simultaneously’ (p. 38). The speech is an insightful and entertaining story of what it means to juggle these ‘hats’ at the same time. 

Professor Subedi’s role took some interesting turns during his time in office. At one point, he became the de facto mediator between the Cambodian government and opposition during the political stalemate following disputed 2013 elections.  At other times, he operated as a government critic and was very nearly declared persona non-grata by Cambodian authorities. Whilst such status is apparently something of a ‘badge of honour’ in the international human rights community, Professor Subedi says that he is happy enough with his OBE from Her Majesty the Queen of the UK.

Professor Subedi’s style as Special Rapporteur was characterised by robust critique layered in soft diplomatic language.   Indeed his style earned him the dubious title of ‘old whisky in a new bottle’ from the Cambodian Prime Minister. In the Editors’ views, coming from the man the subject of the criticism, that’s a pretty good nip.