Does international law really mean international? It seems that to the lay person when one hears international law or international tribunal, they automatically think of one of two events: the Rwanda genocide or the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. And while these have been two of the most publicized and terrible cases to come under the banner of international law in the recent decades, some are criticizing that international law is taking unfair aim at Africa and Eastern Europe. This seems to be because many of the judgeships are dominated by Western European judges.
Judge Abdul Gadire Koroma, former judge on the International Court of Justice and from Sierra Leone, recently spoke to a group in Dubai at the Modern International Study Institute. His criticisms stem from the fact that most international lawyers are European and thus interpret laws based on their regional backgrounds. He is calling for more international lawyers from different backgrounds. He states, “for international law to be truly international, people from different regional backgrounds should be practising it to bring their own perspectives to it.” He has a valid point. For international law to have any legitimacy, its practitioners must come from varied backgrounds to bring their qualities to the profession. Also, the seats of the international tribunals sit in Western Europe. This should change as well to embrace the inclusion that international law should promote. It makes sense to promote international law in every nation, especially as it is going to be of vital importance as time goes on and national boundaries “disappear”.
I believe Judge Koroma goes too far, however, when he states that international laws should take into consideration legal traditions and cultures from around the world. It is one thing for a non-European attorney to bring his cultural background within the realm of international law and widen the focus of lawsuits and complaints to target crimes from around the globe. It is another for international bodies to look to different cultures and embrace their cultural norms. For example, stoning is still a valid punishment is certain nations. Others still punish adulterers, homosexuals, and minority groups for nothing more than who they are. Should international law adopt these cultures traditions? Absolutely not.
As a law school promoting international law, what do you think of Judge Koroma’s comments?