Report of the Jury – François Prize 2020

On 6 November 2020, the KNVIR awarded the biennial Francois Prize. The report of the jury reads as follows:

It is my great pleasure and honour to present the jury report of the 2020 François Prize of the Royal Netherlands Society of International Law.  The François Prize was created to promote the study of public international law and private international law and is offered, every other year, to an excellent master’s thesis or other comparable paper in these fields of law.  Ph.D. dissertations, books, articles published in scientific journals or publications that otherwise have been reviewed and revised externally do not qualify.  The anonymised submissions are judged on originality and relevance of the topic, the systematic and logical way of thinking, the quality of the legal analysis and conclusions, style and, finally, presentation.  More information on the Prize can be found in its Bye-Laws, available on the Society’s website.

This year, the jury was composed of Prof. René de Groot, who is professor emeritus of Private International Law at the University of Maastricht, Dr. Ineke Boerefijn, coordinating policy advisor at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, and myself:  Dr. Christophe Paulussen, senior researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut.  This will also be my last year as a member of this jury:  after eight years, it is time for me to step down.

In these eight years, the number of submissions has always been quite stable, around 20, and also this year, we received 20 theses.  The submissions addressed a variety of themes of relevance and interest to today’s students, including environmental law, business and human rights, disinformation, refugee law, domestic violence and international criminal procedure law.

We are happy to see that students are concerned about such topical matters that are of great relevance to society as a whole.  Sometimes we noted a somewhat too optimistic perception of the role law can play in this context, but it is a fact that law does play a role, and we have seen interesting proposals for new rules.  This illustrates a positive aspect in a number of submissions:  the authors did not merely describe and analyse the problem, but also made a genuine attempt to contribute concretely to finding solutions.

Before we move to announcing the prize winners, I would like to make a few additional general observations on the submissions we have received.  Even though the Prize accepts submissions in the Dutch, English, German or French language, all submissions except one were written in English.  Moreover, we note that in the footnotes of the different submissions, the number of non-English sources is extremely limited, not to say almost non-existent.  As also stressed by other chairs of the jury in the past, that is to be regretted, as a lot of interesting legal discourse can be identified in other languages.

And again, similar to previous years, the number of submissions in the field of private international law remains disappointing.  In 2016, the jury noted that, and I quote, “[i]f this phenomenon is indicative of the position that private international law currently occupies in academic education in the Netherlands, there is – in view of the societal relevance of private international law in a strongly internationalised society – cause for some concern.”  Since the jury has had to repeat this point in 2018 and also this year, we should perhaps remove the word “some” in “some concern” here, and so, once again, we call upon professors of private international law to encourage their students to submit papers.

Finally, and more critically, we found that a few theses lacked a clear problem definition, did not have a strong structure, and used very few references, making us wonder how much supervision and guidance the students had received.

But of course, there were also many very good theses, and even a few excellent ones, and you understand that I am slowly building up the tension now to announce the prize winners, to whom we turn now.  The attentive listener will have heard that I am speaking, not about a prize winner, but about the prize winners – in plural form.  And indeed, this year, the jury decided – and this is quite extraordinary – to award a first and a second prize, and to divide the prize money of 2,000 euros between the first (1,500 euros) and second (500 euros) prize winner.  And to keep it still a little bit exciting, let us present these two theses in random order.

The first thesis is entitled ‘Protecting the North from going south?  Developing area-based management tools for the conservation of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction in the Arctic Ocean’.  This thesis, authored by Vassilis Dokalis from Utrecht University, noted that while the human presence in the Arctic areas beyond national jurisdiction increases, the establishment of marine protected areas still lags behind.  Dokalis concludes that a regional arrangement, involving the Arctic States, would allow for these states to maintain their leading position in the management of the Arctic region, while it will also guarantee support for global efforts to protect the marine ecosystems of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

In our view, this thesis covered a very difficult, but highly topical issue, of great relevance to our current and especially future society.  We learned a lot reading this interesting and important thesis, which has a good structure and which uses a wealth of literature.  Dokalis covers all the applicable legal regimes in detail, as well as the implications of their co-existence.  To us, he has shown that he clearly masters this quite specific and technical topic superbly, while at the same time, he is aware of the limitations of the thesis, as well as the bigger picture, that is:  the geo-political context.

The second thesis is entitled ‘Paternity and Parental Leave:  Towards a New International Labour Standard’.  This thesis, written by Katharine Booth from Leiden University, explores the extent to which the international and European legal frameworks have addressed gender equality in the workplace, specifically in relation to paternity and parental leave.  Booth concludes that more needs to be done at the international level and identifies the International Labour Organization, or ILO, as the most appropriate international organisation for reform, proposing for the ILO to implement a new International Labour Standard, which should be adopted as a convention and designed to promote the uptake of family leave by fathers and partners.

The jury felt that this was again a very topical and important issue that Booth has analysed perfectly.  She provided a good analysis of the pros and cons of the various existing regulations between human rights, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, and employment, including those of the often-overlooked ILO.  On the basis of this analysis and the identified gaps in protection, she also took a clear position in the discussion.

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for…  I am very pleased to announce that the first prize in the context of the François Prize 2020 goes to Vassilis Dokalis, and that the second prize goes to Katharine Booth.  Also, on behalf of Prof. René de Groot and Dr. Ineke Boerefijn, I would like to congratulate both of you with this honour, and we wish you all the very best with your future endeavours.

I would like to give the floor to both prize winners to say a few briefs words, but not before I have made my final point, and that is that this is the seventh (!) time in a row that a student from Utrecht University wins the François Prize and so we would like to encourage Utrecht University to continue on its successful path and the other universities to challenge this long series of victories.

Thank you.

The Hague, 6 November 2020

The Jury

Ch.Y.M. Paulussen
Chairman of the Jury

G.R. de Groot
Member of the Jury

I. Boerefijn
Member of the Jury

Vassilis Dokalis

At the Annual Meeting on 6 November 2020, which was held online, 
the J.P.A François Prize was awarded to:

Mr. Vassilis Dokalis