Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry | PhD 1984

President, World Maritime University

During your over 20 year career with the International Labour Organization, what would you consider to be your most outstanding accomplishment?

One of my major accomplishments is the Maritime Labour Convention that I developed. The Convention provides rights and protection at work for the world’s more than 1.2 million seafarers and updates more than 65 international labour standards related to seafarers adopted over the last 80 years. Through this convention, I was able to use all of my years of experience in international law and international treaty-making. It has absorbed nearly seven years of my professional time in an exhausting way but also in a very exciting way because I felt law in action not just law in the books. It has been a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Working now on an ILO standards vision, in particular on how to enhance the impact of the ILO supervisory system and its rich body of standards, is my current challenge which I am pursuing with a passion.

Did your doctoral thesis on lawmaking by international organisations, focusing in particular on the international maritime organisation, contain any of the foundations for this treaty?

The doctoral thesis for my PhD in International Law at the Graduate Institute contained much of the basis for my later accomplishments. My interest in maritime issues began during my studies at the Institute, which coincided with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Thanks to my studies, I have been fortunate enough to be able to occupy some important positions at the ILO while continuing to work as a lawyer in the maritime field.

Why did you decide to return to the Institute to teach?

I am a teacher at heart. I started off my career as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies and I am keen to share my experience with young people. Teaching the course on International Labour Law and Globalisation in the spring 2011 Semester gave me the chance to do something that I enjoy. The Institute goes back to the League of Nations’ days and has a long tradition of training civil servants for international organisations. It does this in part by bringing in key people from international organisations who can add value to the teaching by using their experience to give exposure to the subjects in practice. I was happy to contribute to this.

Do you cross paths with other Graduate Institute Alumni in your professional activities?

We had somewhat of a fraternity of Institute Alumni in the international labour standards department at the ILO. Many of my past colleagues have studied international law at the Institute and when we looked for short-term staff and interns, we often considered people who had degrees from or who were studying at the Institute. The experience they gained in the ILO enabled them to compete for vacancies not only in the ILO but also in the rest of the UN system.