11 October 2018

Interview with Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, President of the International Court of Justice (PhD, 1980)

At the 2018 Alumni Reunion on 15 September 2018, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf received a prize for Lifetime Professional Achievement. The prize is awarded to former students who have excelled in their chosen career, demonstrated leadership in their field or made a positive contribution to the reputation of the Institute.

What are the challenges for the ICJ and for you, as President, today?
There are multiple challenges facing the International Court of Justice. To give you a couple of examples: first, there are great expectations attached by States to the work of the Court and to its mission of settling disputes through the law. However, these great expectations cannot always be met by the Court because, although the Court is a court of general jurisdiction, the basis of its jurisdiction is the consent of States and that consent is neither easily given nor is it broad enough. Thus, the Court’s ability to deliver does not always correspond to the expectations of those who come before it, particularly the Applicant States. A second example, which is linked to the issue of the increase in the case load of the Court, is that the Court needs to update its methods of work and its rules of procedure in order to deal with this increase in case load. We have already greatly improved our methods of work over the last 10 years but we need to do more because times have changed. There are new ways of accomplishing judicial tasks through the utilisation of modern technologies which will increase efficiency and  improve the work of the Court.
A third example is that the increase in the case load is not matched by an increase in resources at the disposal of the Court.

Regarding the challenges faced by the President of the Court, I will say that a major challenge is to manage a global court like the ICJ, as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, in an era of unstable and unpredictable international relations. This may lead to increased recourse to judicial mechanisms, due to the failure of diplomatic mechanisms, but given the limited role that was originally envisaged for the Court, it is not easy to manage expectations in such circumstances.

Were your studies at the Institute useful?

My studies at the Institute were very useful. They helped me to become an effective international lawyer. This does not mean that I did not know anything about international law before coming to the Institute. I was already a young lecturer in international law at the Somali National University and therefore I had a good knowledge of the discipline but I was able to consolidate my knowledge, add rigour and acquire analytical capacity while I was at the Institute. I learned a lot and benefitted greatly from my studies. My studies later enabled me to compete internationally with others to occupy important posts in international organisations, particularly as legal adviser to several international organisations and, of course, to be elected more recently to the ICJ. I think they are all linked and I don’t think that I would have been able to do what I have done without my studies at the Institute.

What advice would you give to our students today?

My advice to students is that they should try to make the best of the opportunity they have. They are in a unique institution. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Graduate Institute is its multidisciplinarity. As an international lawyer, I also had to study  the history of international relations and international economics and this was of great benefit to me. The multidisciplinary approach which characterises studies at the Institute is very useful. The other thing the Institute offers is that it is based in Geneva where students can find international career opportunities, both in the public and private sectors. My advice to them is to make the best of this wonderful opportunity.

This interview will be published in the next edition of Globe, the Graduate Institute Review.