It is my great pleasure to announce the winner of the 2018 François Prize of the Royal Netherlands Society of International Law to you today at our annual meeting. This prize is a bi-annual prize that honours the best Master’s thesis in the fields of public international law or private international law written at a Dutch University in the past two years, in as much as these papers have not yet been published and have been sent to the jury. The anonymous or anonymized submissions are judged among other things on their originality, their demonstration of a profound understanding of the law in a particular field, and the language used. For those interested, you may find the Bye-Laws for the Prize on our website.
This year, the jury was composed of professor René de Groot, professor emeritus of Private International Law at the University of Maastricht (who is unfortunately unable to be here with us today), dr. Christophe Paulussen of the T.M.C. Asser Institute, and myself – also a professor at Maastricht University – as the chair of the jury for this year. I must admit that Maastricht is perhaps somewhat over-represented this time, but I will be stepping down this year after six years on the jury.
The jury is happy to note that a substantive number of papers has been submitted, as was the case with previous versions of the prize. We have received a total of 20 submissions, and that is a lot of reading to do! The papers demonstrate what is on the minds of our students: we have seen work on the consequences of Brexit, various fisheries issues and questions concerning flag State jurisdiction, a possible nexus between the denial of abortion and torture, papers about the International Criminal Court, international criminal law and arms trade, extractive industries and collaborative accountability, third party funding in international arbitration, and International Humanitarian Law and sexual violence as a method of warfare. We are happy with this wide range of subjects, also because each of us has had to read about issues we did not know about in detail before taking up these papers.
I would like to make some more general comments on the papers that we have reviewed. First of all, we note that there is very little variety in the language used for the research on which these papers are based: almost all sources mentioned in the footnotes have been in English. That is to be regretted in our view, there is so much relevant legal discourse happening in French, German, Spanish or indeed Dutch. You may be aware of the debate triggered by Anthea Roberts’ recent book “Is International Law International”, and language – apart from legal traditions – plays an important role in how we understand international law. It would be a pity if English, while being the contemporary lingua franca in this field, would end up being the only language of relevance: research would miss out. This is really a recommendation not to ignore what is available in other languages around us.
Also, and regretfully, few papers were submitted in the field of private international law –unlike previous years. Since the Society aims to cover both fields – private international law as well as public international law – I would like to urge those in the audience working in that field to also encourage their students to submit papers for the next round of the prize. They are more than welcome!
Now on to the winner of this year’s competition.
As I mentioned, we received 20 papers and initially read all of them. These 20 papers then led to an preliminary selection of twelve papers that had been mentioned by at least two members of the jury. Out of this list, we ended up with a shortlist of five theses that were the serious contenders. This was not an easy choice!
I now come to the announcement of this year’s winner. It is a paper entitled “Human Rights and Climate Change, protecting the right to life of individuals of present and future generations”. Not only does this paper address an urgent issue, it is also – purely by chance – a paper whose subject matches the theme of this annual meeting.
It is an attractive and very legible paper that deals with the question if and how human rights law and more specifically human rights litigation may be relevant to the legal protection against climate change. It is a timely paper, even if it was written before the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Urgenda case that will be discussed later today.
The author takes a look at her research question from four different perspectives. She provides a whirlwind overview of the possibilities (or lack thereof) of existing human rights systems in Europe, Latin America and Africa under the heading of a “greening human rights” approach. She then discusses the absence of a (human) right to a clean or healthy environment and the problems this may pose – both in practice and conceptually. After this she investigates the possibility and potential of public interest litigation in existing human rights procedures and includes brief discussions of domestic case law. Finally, and perhaps conceptually the most challenging, the matter of so-called inter-generational rights is addressed – the question whether it is possible to (now, already) claim a healthy environment for generations to come. Perhaps this is where the paper reaches its limits as it is very much focussed on a litigation perspective and one could consider that this issue of inter-generational rights might need further reflection and development, before even concentrating on its possibilities in court. However, here again a number of domestic cases are mentioned and on re-reading the paper recently, I was wondering what happened to the Minors Oposa case in the Philippines or the case of the Swiss Grannies?
The winning paper was submitted at the end of June 2017, so there have been developments since then. Some of them will no doubt be discussed here today, and the winning paper brings together a number of important threads relevant to the legal debate about Climate Change.
It is my great pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2018 François Prize is Julie Albers who graduated from the University of Utrecht in 2017, for her thesis on climate change and human rights litigation. I am happy to note that this paper will be available soon on the KNVIR website.
We understand that you are now working with the Public Interest Litigation Project of the Dutch Section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM), a project that explores the use of strategic litigation in the field of human rights in the Netherlands. I believe that work is very much in line with your award-winning thesis, so NJCM must be happy to have you! We also congratulate the University of Utrecht for their third François Prize winner in a row – that is quite an achievement!
But today we celebrate most of all the achievements of Julie! The jury congratulates you on winning the 2018 François Prize and we wish you well in your future endeavours.
The Hague, 2 November 2018
Chairman of the Jury
Member of the Jury
G.R. de Groot
Member of the Jury