The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Erika Schneidereit

Legal education

Why international law should be part of every law grad’s education

By Erika Schneidereit June 28, 2018 28 June 2018

Why international law should be part of every law grad’s education

 

The curriculum of law schools across the country is designed with this question in mind. While some fundamental courses (contracts, criminal law, and torts) are perennial staples of Canadian legal curricula, subjects like international law are notably absent from the program requirements. But are new law graduates at a disadvantage without a faculty-mandated understanding of international law? Or should Canadian law schools focus on equipping their students with more “traditional” tools of the trade?

Few law schools in Canada deem international law worthy of “required course” status. Of the 19 Canadian law schools offering common law programs, only four (the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, University of Windsor, and Université de Montréal) require students to receive some form of international legal education.

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International law

Prohibiting chemical weapons: The short arm of the law

By Erika Schneidereit May 28, 2018 28 May 2018

Prohibiting chemical weapons: The short arm of the law

 

In March 2018, the poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British territory captured the international media spotlight. Reports later claimed that the pair had been exposed to a Novichok nerve agent, quickly leading to allegations that its use constituted a violation of international law. But what international law actually says about the use of chemical weapons, and the options available to states subjected to a chemical attack, is regrettably absent from most conversations on the topic of chemical warfare.

The international legal prohibition on the acquisition and use of chemical weapons is grounded in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a multilateral treaty with 192 state-parties. Only three states (Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan) have neither signed nor ratified the convention. This near-universal ratification is impressive given the CWC’s wide-ranging prohibitions – banning use as well as the development, production, acquisition, retention and transfer of chemical weapons. Also targeted is any assistance provided to other states to engage in activities prohibited by the CWC.

Even so, violations of the treaty (or at least, allegations of violations) continue to occur. So what actually happens when states fail to adhere to the strict rules of the CWC?

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International law

Women are still seriously underrepresented in the shaping of international law

By Erika Schneidereit March 7, 2018 7 March 2018

Women are still seriously underrepresented in the shaping of international law

At first glance, it is perhaps understandable how international law could be misconstrued as gender-neutral. With seemingly objective doctrines and the fact that international legal rules apply primarily to states, it is difficult to see how this particular body of law could possibly be subject to feminist debate. But the very fact that international law appears to draw no gendered distinctions raises a red flag, as it suggests that international legal norms and institutions are free from bias. Contrary to its apparent universality, however, the development of international law has continually under-represented women and marginalized female perspectives.

The clearest example of how women are excluded from international law is their striking absence from the institutions shaping how international rules are made and applied. Despite recent progress, women remain under-represented in domestic legislatures around the world. In a system where states negotiate and ratify treaties (one of the two main sources of international law), this absence of female decision-makers is striking.

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International law

When the laws on universal jurisdiction mix with politics

By Erika Schneidereit December 5, 2017 5 December 2017

When the laws on universal jurisdiction mix with politics

 

Part 1 of this series provided an overview of universal jurisdiction, and looked at how Argentina has used this doctrine to dig into Spain’s troubled past. But how has Spain itself grappled with the benefits – and drawbacks – of embracing universal jurisdiction?

The doctrine of universal jurisdiction is certainly a polarizing subject in international law – so why dig into the history of its use in one particular country? While exploring the rise and fall of universal jurisdiction in Spain is undoubtedly intriguing from an academic perspective, it is more importantly a crucial exercise for advocates of the doctrine who seek to entrench universal jurisdiction as one of the core jurisdictional bases in customary international law.

Despite its recent fall from Spanish good graces, since its 1985 adoption into Spanish law “no country has been more assertive in using [universal jurisdiction] than Spain.” Spain’s championing of a legal tool used to prosecute human rights violations beyond national borders is somewhat surprising, given the country’s own historical experience with post-conflict justice — notably, Spain’s decision to effectively prohibit prosecution of the crimes occurring under the Franco dictatorship and the Spanish Civil War. Alternatively, it is perhaps precisely because of this reluctance to turn its historical gaze inward that Spain so readily allowed for the pursuit of justice outside its borders. 

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International law

Reluctant enforcement: The laws on universal jurisdiction

By Erika Schneidereit October 4, 2017 4 October 2017

Reluctant enforcement: The laws on universal jurisdiction


In international law, they are known as “victims of enforced disappearance” – individuals removed from their homes and typically never heard from again. But in Spain, they are known simply as ‘the disappeared’: the over 114,000 Spaniards who vanished during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship (between 1936 and 1975).  The word itself, “disappeared,” gives a glimpse of this tactic’s cruel effects. Victims’ families and friends are left with no explanation - the disappeared are simply gone, never to be heard from again.  

In the years that follow any war, there are calls for answers. Often, these calls go unheeded - sometimes because the government cannot risk reigniting tensions, sometimes because it simply lacks the political will to embark on a daunting quest for post-conflict justice.

When Spain emerged from dictatorship in 1975, it too struggled with how to reconcile the dark chapters of its past with a new vision for the future. Claiming that it needed to protect its nascent democracy, in 1977 the Spanish government chose to pass an amnesty law prohibiting prosecution of individuals for offences committed from 1936 to 1975 – a nearly 40 year period in which thousands of crimes had taken place. 

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