Professor Andreas R Ziegler (UNIL - Law School) has just contributed an article to an international and highly diverse on-line symposium on teaching international law on Afronomics Law Blog.
Globalization and the current state of society demand a better understanding of the international aspects of problems and legal solutions available. Climate change, migration, poverty, terrorism, pandemics (like COVID-19) etc. require international cooperation, or at least a good understanding to what extent domestic solutions are affected by those taken in other countries. The recent mess created by nationalistic and protectionist measures showed too often the lack of knowledge regarding available mechanisms and coordination. This has weakened the relevance of the already challenged treaties and institutions (as core elements of international law) even more. This is not only true during the current crisis of multilateralism.
In view of the long tradition of European integration and close cooperation between European States, one might think that in Europe international law plays a more important role in the education of lawyers. This is astonishingly not entirely true. Many of these States have long traditions of nation-building that also influence the legal culture. The idea that the typically German or English system in training lawyers should be preserved and that the domestic legal systems needs to be protected often leads to a focus on outdated syllabi and a reluctance to integrate international law into the teaching. In this respect, even the importance of European Union law has little changed in the teaching and makes the problems described in this contribution as relevant to Europe as to most legal systems around the world. A recent study (Scoville and Berlin, 2019) holds that legal tradition and regional geography predict variation undermine accounts that attribute all differences to national needs or socio-political conditions, suggest a variety of new research questions and indicate that, in at least one area, inter-traditional and inter-regional socialization might be the most effective mechanism for harmonizing national practices and perspectives.
This is not a new finding, but it is surprising that we have never taught so much international law (and published in this field) and at the same time, we still do not ensure that every graduate in law has a sound understanding of international law (see e.g. ‘Teaching and Researching International Law in Asia’). The following recommendations have been tested also for Switzerland in a more extensive analysis.
A proper understanding of the complexities we face today relies—especially for lawyers –also on an understanding (concepts, language) of international and foreign law. In addition, universities must teach the skills to (quickly) find the information and assess it. This is best done through a good introduction to the foundations of international, European and comparative law and the respective skills (languages, research tools etc.) and the integration into all other courses in order to apply these skills and understand the specific international aspects of the various areas of law (private law, public law, criminal law etc.). This seems particularly important in the often less developed teaching of public law, most importantly when it comes to administrative law (in the large sense) such as taxation, health law, environmental law, migration law, economic law, financial law etc.
National Societies for International Law or regional law as well as all branches of the International Law Association (ILA) should urgently address the minimum requirements in this area and make appropriate recommendations to the relevant institutions. This is probably true for many university systems at this stage. The German Society for International Law and its resolutions (e.g. 2016) could serve as examples. It calls upon all those responsible in the German-speaking world to work towards ensuring that the basic elements of international law, private international law and comparative law become an integral part of basic legal training. At the regional level, the respective organizations like AAIL, ASIL, ESIL etc. could envisage a common initiative. The ILAs had undertaken such efforts in the past. Nowadays, the Global Network for International Law, a relatively recent informal body, could be also be a good forum. For Europe, the European Law Faculties Association has called upon members to improve standards (e.g. Resolution adopted at the Annual General Meeting in Turin 2019).