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Is International Law a Toothless Tiger?

Later this month legal experts from around the world will meet at Bond University for the first time to discuss the practical ramifications of international law and the decision-making bodies that provide global governance.

In the past 20 years, Australia has been named as a party in some 60 decisions of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Of those that found against Australia, only one – Toonan -v- Australia – has been fully implemented by the Federal Government; and even in that case, it took years for the recommended legislative changes to be enacted.

Australia – along with many other countries – is a signatory to various international covenants covering a range of civil and political rights.

On paper, it makes us look like fine upstanding global citizens, but in practice, it could be argued that International Law is a toothless tiger.

On October 22 and 23, international law experts from around the world will meet at Bond University on the Gold Coast for a two-day workshop examining the often contentious issue of access to international justice.

Facilitated by the University’s Centre for Law, Governance and Public Policy based at Bond University, it will be the first time ever that representatives from the world’s leading international law think tanks will come together to discuss and debate the practicalities of global courts and covenants.

The 20 participants include international law academics, scholars, researchers and practitioners working in universities, specialist IL firms, government and international organisations such as the United Nations, and hailing from countries all over the world.

“This is a unique event and a rare opportunity for us to examine the question of access to international justice in its broadest sense,” said Professor Patrick Keyzer, who heads the Centre for Law, Governance and Public Policy.

“One of the key issues will be how various countries respond to the findings of bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee, the International Criminal Court and the World Trade Organisation’s dispute resolution system.

“Are their recommendations adopted in the countries that are signatories to the covenants? How long does it take for international justice to be effected within the signatory countries? Or are things just swept under the carpet?

“At the other end of the spectrum, we’ll also be looking at the obstacles and challenges faced by ordinary citizens in getting a case heard by these international courts.

“It’s not like a domestic legal action where you can engage a lawyer, prepare the required documents, get a listing date and have your day in court.

“The process can take years, and then a country can simply decide not to accept the decision,” he said.

The Access to International Justice Workshop is aimed at developing practical recommendations to resolve these issues and an edited collection of the discussions will be published next year.

Professor Keyzer says it is also a significant opportunity for the world’s foremost experts in the international law field to strengthen their ties and discuss new strategies for the improvement of the international law system.

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