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10 May 2006

Academic Year Begins at the Heidelberg Center in Santiago de Chile

Lecture by Prof. Wolfrum on the dilemma of international law — The Heidelberg Latin America Center is a postgraduate and continuing education centre of the University of Heidelberg in the Chilean capital — Of especial significance in the framework of the University's internationalisation strategy

Some days ago, the President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Rüdiger Wolfrum, opened the academic year at the Heidelberg Center in Santiago de Chile with a lecture on international law. The Heidelberg Latin America Center is a postgraduate and continuing education centre of the University of Heidelberg located in the Chilean capital (see http://www.heidelberg-center.uni-hd.de). It is of crucial significance in the framework of the University of Heidelberg's bid to strengthen its international standing.

NATO started out as a defence alliance and nothing else. But those days have long gone. In 1999 the organisation waged war on Yugoslavia, the first time it had taken such a step in its own right and outside its territory. All that was required to bend the UNO mandate in this direction was the approval of the UN Security Council. The national parliaments were not involved in the decision.

When international institutions start aging, they frequently tend to branch out and go it alone. But in so doing, they risk infringing against the restrictions imposed on their legitimacy. This crucial dilemma in the field of international law was the subject of the lecture delivered at the Heidelberg Center in Santiago by Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Rüdiger Wolfrum of the Max Planck Institute of Comparative Public Law and International Law (Heidelberg). Summing up he said: "We need to strengthen the chain of legitimacy extending from international legislation to the individual citizen."

The lecture marked the opening of the academic year 2006 for the one-year Master's course in international law provided for selected law students by the Universities of Heidelberg and Chile. This is the third time the course has been offered. Accordingly, the audience of approximately 70 included the 19 students enrolled for this year. They hail from Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. The examples Wolfrum drew upon to illustrate the changes undergone by international institutions were just as motley as his audience. As a judge and as president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea he knows from experience that NATO is not an isolated case.

One instance of this general dilemma beleaguering international law is the way in which the United Nations has responded to the heightened threat of terrorism. In theory, UNO law relates to states, as they are the only entities that can jeopardise international peace. Formerly, the Security Council only held states responsible for terrorist activities within their own frontiers if they actively supported terrorism. Recently, however, two resolutions adopted by the Council put paid to this regulation. Today, a passive state undertaking no action against private activities on its territory can get into really hot water.

The United Nations epitomises the core criticism levelled at these developments by Wolfrum in his lecture. Agreement between the nation states is the foundation for international law, but those nation states have been forfeiting their influence. Thus international organisations are undermining the very consensus on which they have established themselves. More importantly, this process is unilaterally detrimental to the national parliaments. Democratically elected legislators have little say on the international plane. This makes them the missing link in the chain between citizens and the law as it stands.

"This is a clear breach in the chain of legitimacy," said Wolfrum, "and it can only be remedied at the national level." He called for more say and more supervisory rights for parliamentarians. He also had serious doubts about the justification for gauging the legitimacy of international decision-makers on the basis of national governments. "Where elections are impossible, the legal requirements have to be especially demanding," he said. In his view expertise can generate legitimacy.

In conclusion Wolfrum urged his students to be careful in assessing the motives behind the voices raised in the discussion. "Those who bewail the lack of legitimacy are not necessarily interested in reforms," he said. "Many of them see in it an excuse to ride roughshod over international law."

Julia Morgenstern

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt

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