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The Continuous Need to Development of International law

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Interview with H. E. Judge Nawaf Salam, International Court of Justice, The Hague


By Marwan Hani Osseiran, Visiting Professional, ICC

On a sunny afternoon in February, I headed to meet H.E. the newly elected and sworn judge Nawaf Salam of Lebanon to the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace. Judge Salam was elected on November 9, 2017 as judge on the International Court of Justice for the 2018-2027 term, having received a concurrent majority of votes in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. He was officially sworn as Judge of the Court on the morning of February 6, 2018.

High Peace is the literal translation of H.E.’s name from Arabic and it is as befitting as destiny. The International Court of Justice, commonly referred to as the World Court, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It settles legal disputes between members states and gives advisory opinions to authorized UN organs and specialized agencies. The Court is designed as a mechanism to resolve legal disputes peacefully in order for states to avoid resorting to war.

Judge Salam is a Lebanese diplomat, jurist and academic. He received a doctorate in Political Science from the Institut d’Etudes Politique de Paris, an LL.M. From Harvard Law School and a doctorate in History from Sorbonne University. He spent over 20 years teaching international law and international relations at various leading universities in Beirut, Paris and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He was also practitioner at a leading international law firm in Beirut before becoming an ambassador and a political appointee for Lebanon to the United Nations in NY. During his tenure at the United Nations, he had the historical opportunity to be a member of the Security Council and presided it for two months during that time. He is considered a kind of a renaissance man who has made a difference, during a difficult time for the region of the Middle East and for Lebanon, such as self-determination of people and the establishment of independent Palestine State; Lebanon’s right to disassociation from the Syrian conflict; implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701; and the creation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The main negotiations took place before H.E. arrived in NY through Security Council resolution establishing the STL. The creation of the STL came as a response to end impunity that shook international peace on the 14 February 2005, resulted in the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 24 others and injured more than 228 people. H.E. advocated for end to impunity and through the Security Council, a result of the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Excellency: When we look back at your family history, your vast studies in international law, your career as a diplomat and legal adviser, we wonder if you had always aspired to be here; did you plan your path to the Peace Palace?


Judge Salam did not always aspire to join the Court. H.E. stressed as we sit down. It was not planned, he remarked. After becoming the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations in NY, he had the idea of submitting his candidature. He got interested in doing more in international affairs.

Marwan Osseiran and Judge Salam during the interview.

Excellency: Your grandfather, a parliamentarian and a leader who advocated for the decentralization and modernization of the Ottoman Empire. He was a member of the executive committee of the First Arab Congress and formulated Arab national demands in 1913. You did not know your grandfather but I wonder how much strength, faith and inspiration you drew from your forebear in your formative years and until now?

H.E. points to a small frame in his bookshelves, his grandfather’s Salim Salam’s ID card. He was a source of inspiration for me, he remarks. He was not only a modernizing figure, he also pushed hard for reforms, leading the “Beirut Reform Movement’ during the Ottoman Empire. He was a liberal spirit. He was also close to Emir Faisal who led the 1916 Arab Revolt and subsequently the Arab delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Like his grandfather, Judge Salam has a very special relationship to Beirut and is aware of the very important role it played in the renaissance movement of the region through its universities, publishing houses, and free press promoting a whole spirit of modernization and reform in the entire region. Today, H.E. stressed the need for a new renaissance for the region to promote ideas and values like the rule of law, human rights, accountability, an end of immunity. Judge Salam belongs to a generation that was informed by Beirut, the City and the progressive role it played in the past.

Excellency: Aside from those important issues related to self-determination, right to disassociation from other State’s conflict, duty for States to bring an end to impunity, what comes to your mind, what worries you right now in international law?

H.E. stressed the continuous need to development of international law. Yesterday we faced emerging issues of international environmental law for instance; today, we have cyber-crime. We need to consolidate the relatively new concept of international criminal law and the creation of the ICC. We are on the right track, he repeats.

Excellency: Customarily and through its long existence the ICJ and the Permanent Court of Justice had “reserved” seats for Security Council permanent members. Now that Judge Greenwood was not re-elected, it will be the first time that the United Kingdom will not have a judge on the Court. Your election was quite interesting in that respect. Perhaps you can give your opinion on the need to have a fair representation of all geographic regions on the bench? Please comment.

Judge Salam explained Article 9 of the statute of the ICJ and stressed the importance of a better balance as a whole, the representation of the main forms of civilization and of the principal legal systems of the world. Definitely, in the Charter of the UN, there are no reserved seats, he remarks. It is clear that the Security Council no longer reflects the world as it is today. The composition of the court didn’t need to continue reflecting that of the Security Council. Clearly, this is no longer the case.

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