The best part of working in the Library is meeting community members who are working on interesting and important projects in international law. It gets even better when they’re willing   to share their stories with our readers.  This month, we are delighted to introduce you to Alexia Solomou, Associate Legal Officer at the International Court of Justice. Ms. Solomou is from Cyprus and has recently succeeded in setting up a Cypriot Branch of the International Law Association. She shares with us her experience of working at the ICJ and offers us great insight in what it takes to set up an ILA branch.

Ms. Solomou, could you tell us a little bit about your job at the ICJ? Working amongst the world’s greatest international lawyers, academics and judges must certainly be both a great experience as well as a first class chance to evolve and develop on a professional and personal level.

I have been working as an Associate Legal Officer for one of the Judges of the ICJ since December 2014. This provides me the opportunity to research inter-state cases before the Court, such as Somalia v. Kenya and Bolivia v. Chile. This allows me to gain first-hand experience of current international law issues, which such cases raise, and to meet with the cream of the crop in my field.

What can you tell us about the International Law Association (ILA), its outreach, goals and activities?

The ILA was founded in 1873 in Brussels. Its aim is the study, clarification and development of international law, both public and private. Today, it comprises more than 55 Branches worldwide. One of the ways the ILA promotes the study of international law is via its committees and study groups. Each of them examines a particular issue –for example, international monetary law, space law, and international commercial arbitration– for a term of two years. Each of these committees or study groups has a Chair, as well as one or more Rapporteurs, who are responsible for composing reports on each topic.

The ILA also hosts a biennial international conference at a different city across the globe. Between 7 and 11 August, the 77th biennial conference of the ILA was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, which I attended. All study groups and committees participate at each biennial conference, whereby they present the result of their work, which they discuss with the audience. Some of them complete their work and dissolve at the end of their two year term. If it is considered necessary, their mandate is renewed for another two years.

How did you go about your quest in establishing the Cypriot Branch of the ILA?

I came up with the idea a few years ago, while I was doing my pupillage at a law firm in Limassol, my hometown. I had realised that there were few avenues to international law for young professionals. Upon completing my pupillage, I decided to work full time in international law, and I took up a job for 2 and a half years at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at Cambridge University. I developed my initial idea and I thought that instead of forming a non-governmental organisation isolated in Cyprus, it would be preferable to create a Branch, which would belong to a global organisation, with a deep history in international law, allowing Cypriots to engage with international law at the highest level.

And how were you able to give flesh to this idea?

Upon fine-tuning my idea and moving to The Hague, I contacted the ILA for the procedural details. According to its Constitution, I had to find at least 10 founding members and draft the Statute of the Cypriot Branch. Between March and November 2015, I communicated with 50 people on an individual basis, requesting their consent to become founding members of the Cypriot Branch. This initiative was met with enthusiasm, not only in terms of founding members, but also in terms of the help I received by Cypriot lawyers for the drafting and translation of our Statute and the initial steps of our Branch.

What about its “genesis?

The Executive Council of the ILA, where all Branches participate, convened in London on 14 November 2015. The Council examined the list of our founding members, which had to include members of all facets of international law, such as judges, advocates, diplomats, and academics, and the Statute of the Cypriot Branch, fulfilling the criteria set both by the ILA and by Cypriot law. The Executive Council approved our application and as such the Cypriot Branch came to life, at least on the international level. A few days later, an application was filed with the Ministry of the Interior of Cyprus for the creation of an association domestically, which was approved on 12 May 2016. Our founding Board is comprised of myself as its President, Marie Thomas (Secretary), Valentina Demetriou (Treasurer), Nadia Kornioti (PR Manager) and Salome Charalambous (Event Manager).

In June 2016, the Cypriot Branch of the ILA and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Nicosia co-hosted a seminar in Cyprus, an event which was a great success as far as I know. How did you feel, as President of the Branch after the seminar, and what were the lessons and conclusions you took away? Do you believe, that the Cypriot Branch can inspire young Cypriots to take interest with international law, after your first seminar?

Indeed, the Cypriot Branch of the ILA co-hosted its first seminar with the Embassy of the Netherlands in Nicosia, last June at the A. G. Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, within the framework of the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union. I certainly felt vindicated because there really is fertile ground for spreading international law in Cyprus. I also realised that the Cypriot Branch concretely fills a gap. I was thrilled with the enthusiasm with which people walked up to me or other members of our board expressing either their wish to enroll as members of the Cypriot Branch or to cooperate with us for future events. It would be fair to note that most of our members are young lawyers who aspire to engage professionally with international law, something I find extremely encouraging not only for the Branch, but also for the development of international law in Cyprus.

Recently, in August 2016, the Cypriot Branch hosted its second event in The Hague, where the keynote speaker was the world renowned Cypriot Professor Symeon Symeonides.

Indeed, last August the Cypriot Branch of the ILA hosted its second event. Professor Symeonides, who is one of our founding members, gave an outstanding lecture on private international law at the Embassy of Colombia in The Hague. The lecture was co-organised with the Club de Droit International, which comprises a team of lawyers and diplomats who are professionally active in the field of international law in The Hague. Professor Symeonides’ lecture was followed by a reception kindly provided by the Embassy of Cyprus in The Hague.

What is the future of the Cypriot Branch of the ILA, how do you picture it and how do you envision it will help in developing and promoting international law in Cyprus?

Despite the fact that we are a non-governmental organisation, our approach is professional, aiming to attract lawyers, judges, diplomats and academics, in as much as we would like students and researchers of international law to join our ranks. As a result, the Cypriot Branch of the ILA is now organising its third event, in Nicosia, on 25 November. The theme of our third conference is “Women and International Law” and it will be co-hosted with the Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies.

My vision for the Cypriot Branch in the near future is the enrollment of more members, the organisation of even more events, and the expansion of our activities in Cyprus for a wider dissemination of international law. For example, our Event Manager, Salome Charalambous, and two of our members, Andiani Panayi and Alexandros Antoniadis, will be representing our Branch at the FREDMUN conference this coming November, a simulation of deliberations taking place at various bodies of the United Nations. Furthermore, we are currently working for the establishment of partnerships with Cypriot NGOs that have common grounds with the Cypriot Branch of the ILA. My long-term plans include the creation of a fund that would offer scholarships to Cypriots to study international law.

Alexia Solomou was interviewed by Neoclis Neocleous  for a Cypriot Newspaper. We would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to Mr. Neocleous for translating the interview into English for the Peace Palace Libary Newsletter.

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