2018 European Society of International Law Conference, Manchester, 13-15 September 2018

2018 European Society of International Law Conference, Manchester, 13-15 September 2018

Last month, from 13-15 September 2018, the 14th annual conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL) was held in Manchester. The theme of the conference was ‘International Law and Universality’. On this theme, six Fora, 12 Agorae, and a number of other (academic) events were organised by the Manchester International Law Centre.

The University of Glasgow School of Law had a strong presence this year, both in terms of members of the International Law, Conflict and Security Research Group that were attending the conference (i.e. Christian Tams, Charlie Peevers, Akbar Rasulov, Henry Lovat, Christopher Boyd, Jeanne Gillet, Gail Lythgoe, Eleni Methymaki, Asli Ozcelik Olcay, Athene Richford, Jessica Schechinger, and Chin-Chia Tien), and in terms of members that were either presenting or chairing a panel during the conference (i.e. Gail Lythgoe, Charlie Peevers, and Christian Tams).

The first day began with the pre-conference ESIL Interest Group events, that were held during the morning of 13 September. There was a lot to choose from, as the ESIL currently has 15 interest groups, ranging from interest groups on International Human Rights Law or International Economic Law, to the Law of the Sea. At the latter’s interest group event, Jessica Schechinger was introduced as one of the new co-convenors, and presentations were given on marine scientific research, marine environmental protection in Southeast Asia, access to marine genetic resources, and disappearing island states. Gail Lythgoe spoke on big data and governance by international organisations during the pre-conference interest group event on International Organisations.

After the formal ‘Welcome and Introduction’, an interesting discussion session with Christine Chinkin and Hilary Charlesworth on ‘Gender Boundaries and International Law’ took place. Next up were the parallel Fora 1 and 2. Christian Tams discussed the role of practice and how it influences universality and the international legal debate in Forum 2 on ‘Universality in Practice’, by focussing on two functions of practice, i.e. as a focal point and a springboard to potential universality. The panel consisted of two other speakers: Larry Martin and Hélène Ruiz Fabri. Mary Footer acted as chair.

Four parallel Agorae followed. Gail Lythgoe presented (for the second time in one day) in Agora 1 entitled ‘The Universal and the Particular’, where she spoke on ‘The Spatialities of Universality and Particularity: Alternatives to Hegemonic Spatial Thinking’. Charlie Peevers chaired Agora 4 on ‘Universality over Time’, in which Andrew Lang, Doreen Lustig, Maria Pichou, and Mona Pinchis-Paulsen presented their research.

Following the academic events, the opening reception took place at the Manchester Museum. Probably for the first time in history, an ‘international law rock concert’ (!), sponsored by Cambridge University Press, was thereafter held at the Manchester Academy. Listening to a band – including a special guest performance by Dan Joyner – with our friends and colleagues, or in some cases PhD supervisor(s), while wearing our ‘International Law Rocks’ t-shirts, made for a memorable evening.

Day 2 started with the parallel Agorae 5-8, followed by Forum 3 and 4. Forum 3 entitled ‘Beyond Boundaries – Universality and the Non-Human’ (interestingly) focussed on the (future) legal status and rights of animals and robots. Before the last couple of parallel Agorae 9-12 began, there was a ‘Mentoring Event’ in which Robert McCorquodale, Christian Pippan, Elies van Sliedregt, and Philippa Webb gave some useful advice (e.g., by cautioning against over-specialisation, especially at an early state of your career) and shared their experiences in terms of ‘turning points’ of their careers. Agora 10 ‘Questioning Universality in International Regimes’ was interesting, especially the presentation by Malcolm Langford and Daniel Behn on ‘Does Nationality Matter?’ Arbitral Background and the Universality of the International Investment Regime’.

After the General Assembly, the Melland Schill Keynote speech was given by Jan Klabbers on ‘Epistemic Universalism’, which was well received. A thought-provoking quote from Klabbers was: ‘Maybe we should not be so worried about the fragmentation of the law, but of the lawyers who cannot talk to each other’. Old Trafford was the venue for the conference dinner that evening, another highlight for many conference attendees.

The final day of the conference ended with a closing session on ‘Seven Philosophers in Search of Universal Society’ by Philip Allott, which was followed by a conversation with Philip Allott and Rosalyn Higgins, two ‘giants’ of international law.

It is probably safe to say that the (well-organised and well-attended) conference was quite a success, and that ‘team Glasgow’ made its mark on the conference. It will not be easy for the organisers of next year’s annual ESIL conference, which will be held in Athens, to top this – certainly in some ways ‘historic’ – event.

~ Jessica N.M. Schechinger (PhD candidate in international law, and research assistant, University of Glasgow School of Law)

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