The Law and Practice of the UN

Speakers and attendees of the IEE's course on the Law and Practice of the UN

How is the interpretation of the UN Charter affected by the practice of its major organs or the work of the UN Secretary General?  What challenges are being raised with respect to the sanctions regimes imposed by the UN Security Council?  How did the UN General Assembly respond to Palestine’s claim that it is legally a “state” and what impact did that response have on the International Criminal Court?  What gaps exist in the 14 standing multilateral counterterrorism conventions?  These were a few of the thorny questions of international law raised in sessions of the Law and Practice of the United Nations, the Institute for Executive Education’s inaugural course, held at the Law School this spring. Sitting in the classroom were 29 students from 17 countries who shared one very specific professional title: Diplomat to the UN.

José Alvarez

The Institute for Executive Education (IEE), which was launched at the Law School this past January, offers uniquely designed programs for professionals seeking to advance in today’s competitive global environment. Led by José Alvarez, Herbert and Rose Rubin Professor of International Law, this course was the first of the IEE’s customized programs and was developed together with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to provide diplomats with practical training and insights on the legal issues specific to the operations of the UN. “My goal is not to solve the problem, just to frame it for you,” Alvarez told the students in his course.

Focusing on the internal law of the UN, the course addressed a range of complex issues, such as how the organization is financed, the privileges and immunities of the organization, and whether an international organization such as the UN can count as a legal person.

Special attention was given to issues having to do with the UN Security Council, which is central to many of the legal questions that arise within the UN. “Over the years,” Alvarez explains, “the Security Council, which was intended to become a global police force, has become in some respects a legislature, passing laws, engaging in dispute settlement, and even creating international criminal courts.”

Although all the students in the course were advanced professionals, not all had legal training. The course therefore provided a compressed, high-level version of the kinds of discussions and questions that might be raised in Alvarez’s for-credit class on international organizations. “My background is politics and security,” says Ahmed Al Qassimi, from the UAE Mission to the UN, “so looking at questions from the legal perspective provided me with a whole different insight into the situation.”

“Sometimes diplomats lack legal knowledge, and sometimes lawyers lack diplomacy skills,” says Damira Zhanatova, from the Kazakhstan Mission to the UN, “so the synergy in the course of law, diplomacy, business and political issues together is really useful.”

Course attendees heard from a broad array of scholars and practitioners in international law. John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law Philip Alston, who is also the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, directed one session on human rights issues facing the UN and another on the International Criminal Court. Chief of the UN Treaty Section, Santiago Villalpando, lead a session on contemporary issues facing the UN Treaty Office. Benedict Kingsbury, Murry and Ida Becker Professor of Law, guided another session on territorial and maritime disputes. Judge Kimberly Prost, the ombudsperson of the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee regarding Al-Qaida and the Taliban, lead a session that explored the challenges and prospects of UN sanctions regimes, which extend to many issues beyond terrorism.

A special keynote address from Judge Theodor Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Charles L. Denison Professor of Law Emeritus, focused on his longtime experience with international criminal tribunals and the rule of law. At the closing ceremonial dinner, students received their certificates of attendance and heard final keynote addresses from UN Under-Secretary-General David Malone, rector of UN University and longtime adjunct professor at NYU Law and Miguel de Serpa Soares, the UN Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs.

“In the course of our daily work, we tend to forget that there are broad mechanisms we should seriously consider,” says Gene Bai, from the Fiji Mission to the UN. “The Law and Practice course has boosted my confidence in doing well, because it has given me a good background on how things are supposed to be done…. I would say that I am very fortunate, not only to be a student, but to be guided by these very renowned scholars.”

Posted June 30, 2015