[The year in review] Rethinking international law: From Memory Laws to AI and war crimes

Published 19 December 2023

@Hilko Visser

As 2023 draws to a close, we compiled this years’ ten most insightful and thought-provoking interviews with leading experts in the field of international law. The conversations discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the global legal community, offering a glimpse into the future of international law.

As public interests are central to the international legal debate and to current global and societal challenges, the Asser Institute’s strategic research agenda 'Rethinking public interests in international and European Law' is organised around questions pertaining to the public interest in international and European public and private law. Shaped by the dynamic interplay of legal principles, technological advancements, and societal transformations, international law is continuously evolving to help address emerging challenges and adapt to changing circumstances. In a globalised world, international cooperation remains significant, as does striving for a balance between sovereignty and accountability.

From the delicate balance between safeguarding historical accuracy and fostering open discourse in the context of memory laws to the ethical ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI) in the military, and the challenges of prosecuting war crimes, 2023’s best-read Asser Institute interviews will offer you insights into the challenges and opportunities that confront the global legal community.

1.[Interview] Shelter city research fellow Omar Piñango: ‘We are on a path to justice’
Omar Piñango is a Venezuelan lawyer and human rights defender who is working with the NGO Defiende Venezuela to document crimes against humanity in the country. As a Shelter City Research Fellow at the Asser Institute he conducted research on the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Venezuela I investigation. Omar Piñango: In Venezuela we have no rule of law. The World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index for years has been ranking Venezuela as country number 140, the very lowest-scoring country in the world... This pervasive injustice has instilled a deep distrust in the Venezuelan justice system.” Read more.

2.[Interview] The sovereignty of sharing: An interview with UN Special Rapporteur Michael Fakhri
UN special rapporteur on the right to food Michael Fakhri explores the delicate balance between sovereignty and sharing information in the context of international law, highlighting the importance of transparency and accountability. “I think many international lawyers have a conflict within themselves; something between hope and resignation when thinking about what can be achieved through international law. (…) It’s not about being critical or mainstream, or orthodox or heterodox; it’s essentially this: are you a good lawyer, or a bad lawyer?” Read more.

3. [Interview] Visiting researcher Kathleen Claussen: ‘Sustainability, trade and security go hand in hand’
Visiting researcher Kathleen Claussen highlights the interconnectedness of sustainability, trade, and security, focusing on the need for a holistic approach to address global challenges. “More governments around the world are thinking about how to protect labour rights in trade agreements. What should these labour rights be, and what are the tools to ensure that labour rights are enforced and complied with?” Read more. 

4. [Interview] Antoine Duval: 'Human rights due diligence is underpinned by a fundamental double movement'
Senior researcher Antoine Duval emphasises the need for both prevention and response to human rights violations.“I fear that human rights due diligence becomes a 21st century re-incarnation of Europe’s mission civilisatrice. I see a concrete risk that the human rights of communities in the Global South will primarily be determined in boardrooms in Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt.” Read more.

5. [Interview] Andrii Nekoliak: The politics of memory laws can be intense
Researcher Andrii Nekoliak delves into the sensitive and often contentious nature of memory laws, highlighting the delicate balance between preserving historical accuracy and fostering open dialogue. “Article 354.1 of the Russian Penal Code, which bans the rehabilitation of Nazism, is also being used to prosecute those who condemn Russia’s current war on Ukraine. It creates a mood of paranoia and a feeling as if the country were in a besieged fortress.” Read more

6. [Interview] PhD researcher Taylor Woodcock: ‘Does reliance on AI in the military alter how practitioners exercise human agency?’
PhD researcher Taylor Woodcock raises critical questions about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on human agency in the military, sparking a discussion about the ethical implications and potential consequences of autonomous weapons systems. “There have been extensive discussions on autonomous weapon systems, but there should be a greater focus on software-based applications of AI that can have significant implications in the military sphere.” Read more. 

7. [Interview] Counterterrorism expert Thomas Renard: ‘Everyone is struggling to identify how to best respond to extremism’
Counterterrorism expert Thomas Renard talks about the rise of extremism and the challenges faced in addressing it. “Our societies have never been as educated as they are today. And somehow, this does not prevent us from drifting towards political polarisation and a lack of trust.” Read more. 

8. [Interview] Niki Siampakou: ‘Victims could be important actors in counter-terrorism efforts’
Researcher Niki Siampakou proposes a role for victims in counter-terrorism efforts, emphasising their potential to provide valuable insights and advocating for their inclusion in decision-making processes. “The victims of terrorism are still not getting enough consideration. I think that more attention is being paid to the perpetrators: their profile, their motivations, and their reintegration into the society.” Read more.

9. [Interview] Tarik Gherbaoui: ‘With my research I aim to reach the decision-makers in the field of counter-terrorism’
Researcher Tarik Gherbaoui shares his ambition to influence decision-makers in the field of counterterrorism through his research, advocating for evidence-based and human-centered approaches. “The rule of law and human rights are essential for counter-terrorism efforts”. Read more. 

10. [Interview] James Patrick Sexton: ‘There is a contrast between the dedication to prosecute war crimes and the practice’
Researcher James Patrick Sexton identifies a gap between the commitment to prosecuting war crimes and the practical challenges of implementing justice mechanisms, emphasising the need for stronger international cooperation and accountability. ‘Informal and temporary military coalitions hinder accountability for war crimes.’ Read more.