International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2009 Issue






Global Judicial Dialogue


Institute for International Judges: Brandeis University’s Gathering of International Law Judges to Debate International Justice: Past, Present and Future, January 4-8, 2009 Trinidad

Jennifer HillmanBy: Jennifer Hillman, Member of the World Trade Organization Appellate Body

It was with much anticipation for some warmer weather that I packed my bags this past January for the beautiful island nation of Trinidad and Tobago and the 2009 Brandeis Institute for International Judges (BIIJ). Trinidad and its Caribbean Court of Justice served as marvelous hosts for this gathering of 14 judges from 11 different international courts and tribunals, representing a broad cross-section of expertise and a diversity of legal traditions. These included regional and international criminal courts such as the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone; human rights courts such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights; regional courts such as the European Court of Justice and the Caribbean Court of Justice, as well as dispute-resolution bodies such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and my own World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body.

From the opening session, it became clear to me that although each judge came with his or her own highly-specialized expertise, the issues and concerns that united us far outweighed the differences among our individual portfolios. The able leadership and effective role of the moderators - combined with appropriate ground rules for participation-led to very lively and thought-provoking exchanges.

My sense of the tremendous talent and intellect that was around the table at our first gathering was only strengthened by the provocative session led by Nicolas Michel, who had recently stepped down as the Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs at the United Nations and who prompted us to think about the tensions inherent in striving for impartial and independent justice within the highly political context in which international courts are established. While the WTO does not face the same level of political tension found in international courts dealing with serious crimes, our discussion of creating a culture that aims to end impunity for perpetrators of international crimes was to feed much of my own thinking over the next few days about how all international courts might best create a climate of compliance for their decisions.

The discussion moved on to many of the thornier human rights issues, including the broadly applicable questions of how much weight is given to human rights in different international tribunals, what sources of interpretation of human rights norms are used by courts, and whether there is a way to inject human rights norms into decisions of non-human rights international courts. Fausto Pocar, a veteran of BIIJ programs and the former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, pushed us all to think about the tensions between security and human rights and about the role that states versus individuals play in raising human rights issues or in implementing decisions affecting human rights. One of the closing sessions prompted much thinking about ways to assess the success or failure of international courts. Richard Goldstone, retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, urged candid thinking about the different purposes for which international courts are established, be it peace-keeping, the protection of human rights, or the peaceful settlement of inter-state disputes. Furthermore, he stimulated discussion about the extent to which the courts have realized those purposes and, where they have not, what are the reasons for this failure and what can be done to remove impediments to success. We explored how growth in the number of international human rights courts can or must lead to an increase in the respect for human rights on the ground in those countries subject to the courts' jurisdiction.

The Institute moved seamlessly from these and other lofty issues to a number of very practical and important matters, including model principles for the independence of the international judiciary, potential follow-on principles for counsel in international court proceedings, and the critical issues of how international courts are and ought to accommodate the many different languages spoken by witnesses, parties, and stakeholders in their courts. This was a rare opportunity for judges to learn about and inform one another regarding best practices, be it in the nomination and appointment of judges, avoidance of conflicts or ex parte contacts, or limits on pre- or post-judicial service. Also discussed were the standards that are or ought to be imposed on counsel appearing before international courts, as well as the most efficient and effective way to both obtain evidence and transmit decisions in a multitude of languages and settings. Here, the BIIJ brought in experts in the field, including Ruth Mackenzie (Centre for International Courts and Tribunals), Linda Carter (McGeorge School of Law), Leigh Swigart and Daniel Terris (both of Brandeis University) to inform our discussions. The examination of best practices was kicked off by a tour of the Caribbean Court of Justice's extremely high-tech court room, where the most up-to-date technology is placed at the fingertips of all the judges and counsel, allowing them to instantaneously view, review, search and trace anything that was presented, said or submitted in court.

Our discussions were spiced with the wonderful smells, tastes and warm sun of the Caribbean., Late afternoon moments in the pool, sampling the local rum, or participating in the evening "masters" Scrabble games gave everyone the opportunity to come to appreciate the people who work so hard at providing justice in courts around the world. My doubts about how well the work of the WTO Appellate Body would fit within the BIIJ's context melted away, and I felt strongly that Brandeis had found a formula that really worked. Providing the space and the time for judges to get to know one another as people who share a commitment to the rule of law, and selecting session topics of relevance to all courts, led to discussions that were rich and deep, and to friendships and collegial relationships that will last. Gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work that is being done in these courts was valuable, but being pushed to go far beyond that was what made the experience so important and memorable. A number of the participants, like myself, were newcomers to the BIIJ, either because of the newness of our courts or because we came from outside traditional international justice circles. Yet the format of the Institute permitted us to quickly engage both intellectually and socially with those who had long been involved in international judicial functions. The BIIJ also gave us all the comfort of knowing that there are many intelligent, fair and decent people engaged in the critical work of providing international justice. Departing from Trinidad, I felt a deep and renewed belief in the work of the international courts as an important part of the creation and respect for the international rule of law. I consider my time at the BIIJ as five days well-spent.

For more information on the Brandeis Institute for International Judges and reports of past institutes, see

Jennifer Hillman, Member of the World Trade Organization's Appellate Body, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, former member of the U.S. International Trade Commission,

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© 2009 – The International Judicial Academy with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

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