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Q: Can you tell us a bit about the establishment of the Academy?
A: The Academy started offering courses on international law in 1923. Everybody in this country knows that, in the establishment of the Academy, Tobias Asser, the famous Dutch lawyer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, played a big role. And it is rather funny that, almost one century later, the Academy works pretty much the same way as Asser intended it to work. When the Academy was created, it was deliberately created as an Academy, not a University. There were big discussions about this on several occasions. It was discussed at the Institut de Droit International, and in the corridors of the Peace Conference. It was discussed later on in meetings in Paris, London, and so forth. A University would mean having a permanent staff, to have professors. And the idea of having an Academy is something quite different. It is just an institution, which is in charge of delivering lectures, without a system of exams and diplomas. And even if there is a diploma of the Academy, it is not the core business of the Academy. In other words, it is not the aim of the Academy to deliver degrees to students. In this respect, students have a certain freedom, and that leads to a completely different way of thinking. And that’s a good thing, because if they had created a University, it would mean that we had yet another university, offering programmes on international law. The fact that an Academy was created gives the institution its originality.
Q: You mentioned the Diploma of the Academy. That has quite a notorious reputation because it is so difficult to obtain. Do you not think it could be made a little bit easier, or that an alternative degree could be added that is less exclusive?
A: At the Curatorium, this is something we are thinking about regularly. I don’t think that the Diploma, as it is nowadays, will be changed in any fundamental way. The Curatorium thinks, and I share this view, that it must remain an extremely high-level degree, very prestigious and so on. We could think about adding another degree, probably easier to get, at the end of the course. It’s a bit complicated to organize because each session has only three weeks…. But nothing is impossible. It’s only a matter of organizing an exam, having papers marked by some people, distinguished lecturers from surrounding Dutch Universities for example. They could be asked to mark the papers and then the results could be sent to the students later on. It’s possible. The problem is that people might get confused between the Diploma, as it is now, and the other new degree. At the moment, people just get a Certificate of Attendance. To deserve this certificate, you need to attend the courses; that’s all you have to do. Many students say they have been awarded a diploma by the Academy, and then show their certificate… So this is already confusing. I am not sure we will change our policy, but it is something we are thinking about periodically. We also think about whether to grant University credits. My opinion is that the Academy has nothing to decide in this respect. Universities are free to award their students with credits for attending the Academy; that’s not the choice of the Academy.
Q: For students it might be very attractive to have credits awarded by their home university for attending the Academy, don’t you think?
A: That is true, but I would be tempted to reply that we do not need to attract more students because we already have so many registrations, and it is increasing each year. So I prefer to welcome students that do not come to collect credits they can use to replace courses at their home university they do not like. I prefer students who are truly interested in studying international law, meeting other people, having their notebooks filled with emails of colleagues from all over the world…
Q: Besides the summer courses, the Academy also offers many other programmes that are perhaps less well-known….
A: Yes, indeed. The Seminar for Advanced Studies will start this Sunday. This was created seven or eight years ago, and is devoted to a specific topic, unlike the summer courses. This year the Seminar is about natural and industrial catastrophes and disasters. And the next one will be on piracy. This programme brings together young practitioners, people who are between thirty and thirty-five years old, and who were at university some ten years before. For them it is interesting to take some distance from their daily activities, and think about their speciality in a more academic way, and exchange views under the direction of a good professor. It’s an intensive programme, which lasts only one week. It’s quite different from our usual activities. In fact, perhaps some other institution might be a more appropriate venue for this kind of programme. That’s a point which could be discussed.
Regarding our more traditional activities, I would like to say a few words about the External Programme and the Centre of Research. The External Programme takes place each year in Asia, Africa or Latin-America. It was created in the 1960s. Boutros Boutros-Ghali at that time was a member of the Curatorium, and can be considered the father of this programme. By the way, he is the President of the Curatorium now, and has been with the Curatorium for over fifty years. He is very attached to the Academy. He often says that the last activity he will give up when he retires will be the Academy. He gives an incredible input to the Academy. Anyways, he had this excellent idea, in the 1960s and the age of decolonization, that in several countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, people had no opportunity to come to The Hague, and thus the Academy would come to them. That was the basic idea: to provide people that could not leave their country so easily with all the facilities of the Academy.
At that time, the External Programme was a long programme, which lasted two weeks. Half of the students would come from the host country, and the others from surrounding countries. The language of the programme depended on the host country, and on the invited professors. For example, the last one was in Chile, and it was run in Spanish. Next year will be in Argentina – for the first time it will be in Latin-America for two consecutive sessions – and the programme will be in Spanish and English. Last year, we were in Abu Dhabi and it was In English. When we again go to Africa – I don’t know when, because we need an invitation from some host institution – maybe we’ll have a session in French, if it is in the French speaking area of Africa.
The External Programme is organized jointly by the host country and the Academy. We always have a specific topic, which is of particular interest for the host country. In China and Abu Dhabi, for example, it was about the environment. Since the sixties, the programme has changed, and we have reduced the duration. I noticed that it is nowadays extremely difficult for some people to leave their office for a full two weeks. This applies especially to those who normally attend the programme: young diplomats, young civil servants, and young academics.
The structure of the programme is a little unusual, as it starts on Friday night. We start with a weekend. We visit some places of interest in the region, and we do this just in order to break the ice. I noticed that at the very beginning of the session, people often look at each other, and do not dare to speak. The people with whom you often have the most difficulties are your neighbours, and for States and their representatives it is exactly the same story. We thus start with a weekend, and the participants together visit various places of interest and attend only a few lectures. This works excellent, because when the course really starts the next Monday, everybody already knows everybody else – after all, it’s a small group of thirty or forty people.
Q: We found this newspaper clip, which was about a donation, by the Academy, of the entire Recueil des Cours collection to a local library in Abu Dhabi. Can every host of the External Programme expect such a generous gift?
A: Yes, they can. Each institution which hosts our programme, will receive the entire Recueil des Cours in paper. I was in Abu Dhabi last month, and the books had already arrived – it takes a while to send them by boat to Abu Dhabi. We had a small ceremony, with the Dutch Ambassador, at the Sorbonne of Abu Dhabi, which was the institution that hosted the programme. All the books were displayed on a gigantic book shelf in a prominent place in the library. Anyone entering the library immediately saw the entire collection displayed. I was with local LLM students who attended the ceremony, and we looked at the books together. And then the Dutch Ambassador, who is a very funny and pleasant man, said to one of the students: “these are indeed splendid books, and I will come back next year to see if they are used at all.” So I advised the students to take the books and make them look like they were used extensively!
Q: We noticed that other institutions are inspired by the way the Hague Academy is run. Various Academies emerge all over the world. They have no formal link with The Hague Academy, but they function almost identically. Do you see those as competition, or do you like this new development?
I like it. I am not afraid of competition. It is useful to have competition, because it challenges you to always do better. In any case, you have to approach it in a positive way, otherwise life is impossible. The last academy inspired by our Hague Academy was the International Academy for Arbitration Law, located In Paris. It opened last year. The challenge with all these academies is how to ensure that they all somehow complement each other. For example, it is a good thing for a student to come to the Hague Academy and study international public and private law, and then go to Paris to focus on arbitration. The idea is not to fight each other, but to find a way to work together. But the main one is in China, and it is called the Xiamen Academy of International Law. It uses exactly the same model as our Hague Academy; they copied it entirely… There is a funny story about this Academy. One day I found on their website photos of all the members of their Curatorium, and can you guess what was in the background?
Q: The Peace Palace!
A: Indeed. The first session of their Curatorium was held here at the Peace Palace in The Hague, and it was then they all had their picture taken, standing in front of the Palace. But they later changed this. We have a good relationship with them. I taught a course in their programme during the second session. It is a wonderful programme. They have a lot of scholarships which they offer not only to Chinese students, but other nationalities as well. I met a Latin-American student who had obtained a generous scholarship, for example. And Xiamen is a very pleasant place, and the professors are the same as in The Hague. Indeed, the difference between the Hague Academy and all the others is not the professors. There are two differences: the first and the main difference is the Library. The second difference is The Hague itself. The fact that here you have the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Criminal Court and so on. You can enjoy a summer course in Xiamen, which is an excellent location with good professors, good weather, warm sea – which is not the case here in The Hague! – and very kind people who take excellent care of you… But it is not in The Hague.
When I was appointed Secretary-General, the Curatorium asked me to prepare a report on how I perceived the future of the Academy. One of the suggestions I made was to have branches or subsidiaries of the Academy in various places abroad. Then you would have The Hague Academy in China, The Hague Academy in Africa, and so on. It would be like permanent versions of the External Programme. I am sure we will do this someday. After all, many American and European universities nowadays also open branches abroad, like the last host of our External Programme, Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi.
Q: Can you tell us something about the relationship with the Peace Palace Library?
A: Yes, of course. It is certainly one of the main advantages for students in The Hague to have access to the Peace Palace Library. Nowhere in the world can you find as many publications on international law as here in The Hague. I did not particularly like the old reading room of the library, because it was too small. But with the new building it is really splendid. The conditions in which you can work there are exceptional, and students appreciate it very much. They also appreciate Dokeos, the online blackboard-environment of the Academy, maintained by the Library. Last year it was perfectly organized, and the students were extremely happy with this online learning environment. They actually believed the Library was the library of the Academy instead of the Library of the Peace Palace. The only problem is to prevent them from downloading too enthusiastically from the Library’s collection, putting stuff on their USB-stick. Perhaps when we establish Academies all over the world, they will have electronic access to the collection of the Library. I am sure some system of distant access will be invented, and such problems resolved.
The paradox of modern life is that in this globalized world you stay at home more and more often. You will have the feeling that you are communicating with everybody, but in fact you can be totally alone. When I am in my house in Normandy, with cows all around me, I have access through my computer to all the documents and websites I need for my research. I would not like if we move to such a Virtual Academy. I like human contact. And the students of the Academy also like the social aspect of it very much.
Recently we established a new social programme, with visits to the Embassies. The idea for this programme was very simple: when you teach international law, and you explain to the students what the settlement of disputes is, a big part is devoted to analysing judgments and case law, which is quite right as they deal with international law. But in real life, 99,9999% of the disputes are settled by diplomats. When you teach at University, it is extremely difficult to explain to students how exactly they do this. And thus we had the idea of bringing the students in contact with diplomats, and they tell the students what they do all day. This way the students see the diversity of the work of a diplomat, and their role in settling disputes on a daily basis. These visits are quite well organized social events. Last year we had around 45 embassies who offered the students a cup of tea and a brief training.
Q: Finally, we wanted to ask a few questions about your experience as Secretary-General. How did you become the Academy’s Secretary-General?
A: I was very happy when the Curatorium called me in 2005, and asked me if I would be interested in becoming Secretary-General. I said “yes, of course!” For a professor of international law it is a great honour. When I was appointed, the challenge was to make proposals to the Curatorium to prepare the Academy for the new century. To honour the tradition, but modernize it at the same time. So we created a modernization committee, and we changed a lot of things. For example, we added the online learning environment: Dokeos.
Q: Every year, you invite all the professors and students to your apartment in The Hague, for drinks and snacks. Each night, you kindly offer drinks, snacks, and a great atmosphere to a group of students.
Yes, and each year, my wife and I say it will be the last time we do this, because it is quite exhausting. I remember one day a colleague of the Carnegie Foundation found my wife and me at the local supermarket, with our caddies filled with drinks and snacks, preparing for another evening. But then the students are so kind and pleasant that we invite them again the next year. I also ask the professors to come and so it is a great opportunity for the students to talk to the professors. For example, last year Professor Gaja, who taught the General Course, was there each and every night! This way, all the 350 students had the opportunity to speak with Prof. Gaja.
Interview with Prof. Yves Daudet, 12 January 2012, 9.00am, by Ingrid Kost & Otto Spijkers.
According to Article 38 of its Statute, the International Court of Justice ‘whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such disputes as are submitted to it,’ has to apply, inter alia, ‘international custom.’ This source of public international law is described, in the same Article, as ‘evidence of a general practice accepted as law.’Check this Research guide
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