Luc Walleyn Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Humanitarian Law: Conversation with Luc Walleyn, Human Rights Lawyer; April 16, 2003, by Harry Kreisler

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If students were to watch or read this interview, what advice would you give them? What should they do to prepare for the future, if they're interested in participating in the processes by which these elements of international law are being shaped and defined?

It's a field of law that certainly will develop in the coming years. We have the development of the International Criminal Court, of course. I think that the legal community in the United States should support the ratification of the convention on the ICC by the United States. It's a very bad thing that the United States does not participate in it. And it will also make the organization of the ICC an element that will structure and organize this whole field of international criminal law and avoid, maybe not completely, but will help to avoid, a lot of bad experiences on the local level.

Lawyers have a personal responsibility in lodging cases and complaints. You should not only act politically when you are accusing someone, you have a responsibility as a lawyer, because you have a responsibility even if the person you're accusing had very bad behavior. He has, also, his rights of defense, and you cannot accuse someone if you don't have serious elements in your file. And you have, also, indeed, the example you were giving in the beginning of our discussion of South Africa, you have countries where an initiative on the international level can have a negative influence in the local situation. You can have exactly the same here in the United States with a procedure based on the Alien Torte Claim acts, for instance. That makes it possible to pronounce very [significant] amounts of punitive damages against people from other countries, and to have, in fact, an influence on the situation of that country.

One final question. Looking back at your life, what are the common themes that unify your effort? It sounds like there was a search for an ethical dimension in a secular world, that law and international law and domestic law are each an instrument for keeping, maintaining, and furthering that ethical dimension, even in a world where religion is doing less of that.

For the future of the world, I think that the rule of law will become more and more important. I hope, indeed, for the development that we witness in Europe, with the larger development of international law and conventions but also with some judicial structures to control it. I think this is a very important element to get the world secured. It's very necessary that we can proceed with that, and it's very regrettable that today, especially after 11th September, countries are falling back on their own interests and just doing a power play when they should understand that even a national interest is linked to the interest of other countries. What happened on 11th September in the United States is not only a question between the United States and al Qaeda; it's linked to the whole problem of the Middle East, of the situation of the Third World, etc. We should solve these kinds of questions together, even if it's much more difficult to get a solution together than to do it yourself. I think it's really necessary, and I hope that in the future we will go that way.

Luc, thank you very much for joining us today for this fascinating conversation about your intellectual journey and the future of international law.

It was a pleasure.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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