Jury Report François Prize 2022

It is with great pleasure that we hereby present to you the jury report of the 2022 François Prize of the Royal Netherlands Society of International Law or Koninklijke Nederlandse Vereniging voor Internationaal Recht (KNVIR). The François Prize was initiated to promote the study of public and private international law at universities in the Netherlands and is award biannually to the very best master thesis in the fields of public or private international law. We read and evaluated the anonymised submissions we received on originality and relevance of the topic, the systematic and logical way of reasoning, the quality of the legal analysis and conclusions, style and, finally, presentation. More information on the Prize can be found in the Byelaws, available on the KNVIR’s website.

This year, the jury is chaired by Prof. mr. dr. G.R. de Groot, Professor emeritus of Comparative Law and Private International Law at Maastricht University. The other two members of the jury are Dr I. Boerefijn, Coordinating Policy Advisor at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights and former Senior Lecturer in human rights at Utrecht University, and Prof. mr. dr. drs. O. Spijkers, Professor of Public International Law at Wuhan University (China).

In previous years, the number of submissions has always been quite stable, around 20. But this year, we received twice as many: no less than 40. We read theses on a wide variety of topics: human rights, the environment, climate change, law of the sea, the interplay between different legal regimes, and international supervision of the implementation of state obligations. Very topical issues. To our regret, not many theses submitted focused on private international law. 

We decided to give one honourable mention. This honourable mention goes to the thesis entitled ‘Consolidating International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law:

The Protection from Gender-Based Violence Against Women in Non-International Armed Conflict’, written by Ingeborg Hanna E. de Koningh at Leiden University. After a thorough analysis, the author concludes that women are comprehensively protected, at least in theory. However, in practice many problems remain. At the very end of the thesis, two avenues are suggested for improvement on the ground. The first avenue builds on the assumption that the international legal framework is sufficient yet suffers from lack of implementation, and the second avenue ultimately leads to the proposal to recognise human rights obligations of non-State parties to the conflict.

The jury felt that both the actual and academic relevance of the research were explained very convincingly. About the latter, it was noted that the existing literature focuses too much on international as opposed to non-international armed conflicts. A comparative research method was used effectively to compare the frameworks of humanitarian law and human rights law, and then to look for cross-fertilization and ways in which the two can complete each other. Overall, we were very impressed. We felt that the problem statement was excellently formulated and elaborated and answered explicitly in the conclusion. The problematization was good, and the thesis clearly was the result of very thorough research. A difficult subject was well analysed. A slightly more interesting and daring conclusion might have been possible. On the other hand, we found it to be original not only to look at sexual violence. And the thesis has a very good structure and was well written. Those are some of the reasons why we felt this thesis deserved an honourable mention. 

And now the moment you have all been waiting for… It is with great pleasure that we announce that the François Prize 2022 goes to ‘Environmental Intervention: An Activist Idea or Legal Tool?’ This thesis provides an analysis of the possibilities of environmental protection under the principle of non-intervention. It was authored by Emma Rosa van den Boogaard from Utrecht University. She was inspired by a very powerful image that we have all seen on television, so aptly described as follows by the author: we see ‘pictures of the beautiful Amazon rainforest going up in flames, whilst the Brazilian President Bolsonaro refuses international assistance’. These pictures motivated the author of this excellent thesis to engage in research of the circumstances under which States can lawfully intervene in the domestic sphere of another sovereign State, sometimes against the latter’s wishes or consent, in response to environmental emergencies. To answer this question, an analysis of the legal framework regarding the principle of non-intervention was provided. The thesis concludes that environmental intervention can only be lawful if the intervention does not fall within the reserved domain and/or does not amount to coercion. Emma Rosa van den Boogaard argues that environmental intervention has high potential to develop from an activist idea into a legal tool. She proposes that when the consequences of climate change are felt more deeply and more frequently, the reliance on sovereign independence as a shield from environmental intervention will weaken considerably. One day, we might no longer speak of a right to environmental intervention, but of an actual obligation to do so. 

We were impressed by the powerful way in which the societal relevance of the research is shown with the help of an image that is hard to forget: the devastating forest fires in Brazil, and the government’s refusal to do anything about it. The academic relevance is explained by comparing the right to intervene in the domestic sphere of another sovereign State in response to environmental emergencies, with the right to intervene in response to humanitarian emergencies under the Responsibility to Protect or R2P doctrine. We further found that the thesis had a very solid and logical structure. The problem was very well defined and delineated, and the research results in a clear and convincing conclusion.

As members of the jury, we wish to congratulate both students with this honour, and we wish them all the very best in their future careers, which will undoubtedly be successful and illustrious.  

The Hague, November 2022

The Jury

G.R. de Groot
Chairman of the Jury

O. Spijkers
Member of the Jury

I. Boerefijn
Member of the Jury