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Judge Bruno Simma speaks on international courts and tribunals

By John Masson

Students, faculty, and members of the public crowded into a Hutchins Hall classroom recently to hear an update on the health of the international court and tribunal system from Michigan Law Prof. Bruno Simma.

And who better to deliver such an update than Simma, a William W. Cook Global Law Professor—and someone who goes by the additional title of His Excellency, Judge Bruno Simma of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

His lecture, part of a series of International Law Workshops featuring prominent figures from around the world, drew about 80 people for the talk and a question-and-answer session immediately afterward. Simma was introduced by Michigan Law Prof. Monica Hakimi, who studies public international law and foreign relations law.

"International litigation is increasingly becoming the rule, not the exception," Simma told the audience. "We've seen the development of a market of available mechanisms" for handling questions across national borders.

One prominent early mechanism was the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which was formed in 1899. It "fell into a long sleep" after World War I, Simma said, but has recently showed renewed stirrings.

"Only recently has Sleeping Beauty been kissed back to life by sovereign states," Simma said, drawing a chuckle from the audience.

Some of the factors driving the proliferation of international judicial bodies include specific types of questions—those that fall under the Law of the Sea, for example, or the World Trade Organization. Other examples of more specialized bodies include the International Centre on the Settlement of Investment Disputes as well as less contentious methods like those used under the Montreal Protocol.

The gradual expansion of the jurisdiction of specialized courts into more general types of law also plays a role, Simma explained.

That said, he added, the International Court of Justice remains the widest-reaching and most prominent international court. A few of its noteworthy cases have included a naming dispute between Greece and the former Yugoslav state of Macedonia, a dispute between Italy and Germany arising from World War II, and a boundary issue involving an ancient temple on the border of Cambodia and Thailand.

Upcoming cases include one involving the use of aerial herbicides in combating the drug trade in Colombia and a whaling case pitting Australia against Japan, which Australia argues is unlawfully killing whales in an Antarctic whale sanctuary. Japan claims to be killing the whales for scientific research.

Generally, Simma added, the existence of established means to ensure some measure of international justice makes the world a safer place.

"Instead of countries rattling sabers, you have these countries engaging in arbitration" or taking their disputes to various venues of international justice, he said. And in a nuclear world, it's hard to put a price on the value of that.

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