Involve citizens in discussions on the legal order

Published February 22, 2017

The discussions in today’s newspapers - on Brexit and the EU, TTIP, the attitude of the Trump Administration towards international organisations and international law, on the ICC and the PCA - suggest a decline in public support for multilateral organisations and treaties. According to Janne Nijman, member of the board and academic director of the Asser Institute, both citizens and politicians have to be involved in discussions on the development of the international legal order of the 21st century.

Nijman gave this message in a speech during the celebration of the fourteenth lustrum of the Public International Law Society 'Prof. mr B.M. Telders' on February 11 2017. In her contribution, Nijman refers to Theresa May’s call for ‘Taking back control’ that taps into an erosion of trust in international law and institutions as linked to their impact on state sovereignty. “Leaving her proposed solutions aside, erosion of trust in multilateral organisations and treaties is often explained by their transformative affect on States and, in particular, on the regulatory control of States in service of the public.”

Are States Losing control?
According to Nijman, the renowned professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York Saskia Sassen phrases the question as to whether States are losing control in the context of economic globalisation. “While companies gain rights and influence through globalisation, privatization and deregulation, power structures are changing. Is corporate economic growth prevailing over the safeguard of public goods and interests? Globalisation transforms the state, and it challenges public international law too.” In her speech Nijman stated that the current crisis of trust requires us to face the fundamental question who wins and who loses within the structures of the current international legal order.

Protect and advance social justice
In her contribution, Nijman drew on the scholarship of former ICJ judge and Leiden law professor Peter Kooijmans (1933-2013) to argue that the ordering capacity of international law depends to a large extent on its capacity to protect and advance (social) justice. She pointed to the need for public international law and institutional architecture to address the consequences of the fundamental transformation of the state and the global society by globalisation, deregulation, and privatisation. “Moreover, both citizens and politicians have to be involved in discussions on the development of the international legal order of the 21st century – thereto, considerations of social justice need to be taken into account.”

Janne Nijman, member of the board and academic director of the Asser Institute, and professor of history and theory of international law at the University of Amsterdam, gave this message in a speech during the celebration of the fourteenth lustrum of the Public International Law Society 'Prof. mr B.M. Telders' on February 11 2017.

Read the complete speech (in Dutch) on trust in international law and institutions.