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

Spring 2017 Issue

Leading Figures in International Law


Tobias Asser, Dutch Jurist

Tobias Asser

By: Jason K. Everett, Staff Writer, International Judicial Monitor

Tobias Asser, born in Amsterdam on April 28, 1838, is best known for his work in the formation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration during the 1899 Hague peace conference which ultimately earned him, alongside his colleague Albert Fried, a Nobel Prize.

Born into a family with a lineage in law, Tobias Asser began his legal career studying at the Athanaeum in Amsterdam, earning a doctor’s degree in law in 1860 at the age of 22.  Asser practiced law for a brief period but found greater focus in academe, scholarship, and politics.  In 1862, he accepted a posting at his alma mater to teach private law.  He continued as a professor of international and commercial law through Athanaeum’s transition to the University of Amsterdam.

Asser co-founded the Revue de droit international et de legislation comparee, a major journal of international law, first published in 1869.  Four years later he would be invited to participate in a conference in Ghent the principal result of which was the formation of the Institute of International Law, an organization that Asser would later lead.


Asser dedicated a significant portion of his life to the belief that legal conflicts between nations could be solved through peaceful means; specifically, through conferences by which nations could agree upon and implement mutually beneficial solutions to common problems.  This dedication lead to a number of conferences called by the Dutch government at The Hague resulting in numerous treaties between the nations of Europe.  Among these was the formation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration through the Hague Peace Conference of 1899.  Formed under the auspices of Articles 20 and 29 of The Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, the Permanent Court of Arbitration sought to facilitate arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution between states.  Asser sat on the Court’s first panel to hear a controversy brought by two states, the Pious Fund of the Californias Case, in 1902.

Asser’s work in peaceful dispute settlement, specifically the formation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1911.

The formation of The Hague Academy of International Law can also be traced, in part, to Asser’s dedication to international law.  He did not, however, live to see its formation, passing on July 29, 1913 in The Hague.  Asser’s namesake lives on through the T.M.C. Asser Institut, a research institute in the fields of private and public international law with its offices in The Hague.

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© 2017 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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