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Discover International Law

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Prof. dr Willem van Genugten presenting the book during The Hague Open Doors. Photography by Annette M. R. van Kooten.

On the presentation of the book “Discover International Law, with special attention for The Hague, City of Peace and Justice” during The Hague International Open Day 2017

By Prof. dr Willem van Genugten, Tilburg University.

International law does belong to everybody and influences the lives of all human beings worldwide much more than one is often aware of. And while we feel that daily lives should not be ‘judicialised’ more than needed, we also think it is important to create more awareness of existing rights and duties, for states, individuals, companies, knowing that such ‘legal frames’ can help solving problems without having to resort to the use of ‘muscles’ (read: military power, terrorist means, authoritarian use of governmental powers).

Authors Prof. Nico Schrijver and Prof. dr Willem van Genugten presenting the book to two students.

International law is about peace and security, trade relations, the fight against climate change, and, for instance, the protection of human rights. Here today we are also exercising human rights, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of association. And should you fall ill while listening to me, you will have access to adequate health care, a human right as well.


All this is about public international law. The second international law ‘leg’ relates to private international law: should you fall in love with a foreign student – or as foreigner with a Dutch student – and should you want to marry him/her and have to divorce next to that, with quite a dispute about the division of the material wealth you did build up together, what law will then be applicable and what court to go to? We are then in the domain of private international law.

The key purpose of the book is to contribute, in very accessible style, to the understanding of the state of the art of public and private international law, including trends and highlights. Doing that, the book also makes clear that it doesn’t make sense to speak about international law in one ‘bundle’: it is composed of quite a number of ‘chambers’, all of them having their own history, supervisory procedures etc.

A second purpose of this book is to present the long existing ties between international law and the city of The Hague, ‘the legal capital of the world’ (Boutros Boutros-Ghali), or better to my mind: ‘An epicenter of international justice and accountability’ (Ban ki-Moon).

At the end of the book, we present a few overriding observations, overall being optimistic ones, despite all the misery visible in the world on a daily basis in each and every domain covered by international law. That optimism seems to be warranted if one looks at developments with historical eyes, and see ‘where we come from’.

To take but two examples: the 1899 Hague Peace Conference made clear that states should solve their conflicts not by fighting but by arbitration, and before the 1970s nearly nobody talked about international agreements on environmental issues. Such an optimistic approach is needed in the view of the authors in order to see progress and not to stick to the ‘negative hypes of the moment’.

Prof. Nico Schrijver and Prof. dr Willem van Genugten.

Dreams and ideals are needed, but they should not be naïve. The UN for instance is an intergovernmental organisation with a huge variety amongst its member states in terms of political systems and of endless different views on numerous topics.

That is the reality one has to face – with positive sides as well: cultural diversity! – while talking about further developing international law and about the role the UN should play and actually plays in strengthening and enforcing it, with humanisation of the international legal order as the lead concept. In words of the book: there is room for ‘conquering terrain upon rude power politics’, which is what law makes law.

Together we stand for ‘the future of international law’. The field deserves it, the world needs it.


“Discover International Law, with special attention for The Hague, City of Peace and Justice” is written by three authors, Prof. Nico Schrijver, Ph.D. student Daniela Heerdt and I myself. It is available in English and Dutch, and soon in French and other UN languages. Our deepest thanks and appreciation to Wolf Legal Publishers.

Prof. Dr Willem van Genugten, em. Professor of International Law at Tilburg University, extra-ordinary professor of International Law at the North-West University, South Africa. President of the Royal Netherlands Society of International Law.


Photography by Rene Gonzalez de la Vega.


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