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Spotlight on Prof. Eric De Brabandere

Prof. Eric De Brabandere was recently appointed as Chair of International Dispute Settlement Law at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies. Eric De Brabandere works at the new Wijnhaven building at Campus The Hague. The creation of a new chair, and its location places international dispute settlement firmly on the agenda of Leiden University in The Hague. Time for an introduction.

What exactly is International Dispute Settlement? 

International arbitration, courts and tribunals, and diplomatic means (negotiation, mediation, fact-finding and conciliation) have been used since many years to settle disputes international law. It thus is a very old practice, that is somehow inherent in any legal system. Yet, it is only recently that international dispute settlement has been able to position itself as an independent field of research and teaching, in the sense of a systemic and systematic exploration of the subject. This evolution has much to do with the fact that the number of procedures which enable states, international organizations and non-state actor (such as individuals and corporations) to settle their international legal disputes has increased substantially over the past years - the so-called ‘proliferation’ of dispute settlement mechanisms. There has also been a spectacular rise in settling disputes through the specific modality of arbitration while the docket of the International Court of Justice is also well filled.

While the rules governing particular methods of international dispute settlement (arbitration, settlement before the International Court of Justice, …), have been analysed and researched since long, contemporary research and teaching is focusing on the international law regulating the principles and practice common to all international dispute settlement mechanisms, in addition to the specific rules of procedure governing particular forms of dispute settlement. Also, questions such as the role and function of international dispute settlement in international law and society, the dynamics of international dispute settlement, and the ethics applicable to counsel, judges and arbitrators have become highly relevant topics for international lawyers.

When and how did you become involved in International Dispute Settlement?

I have since the start of my career been involved in mainly academia but also in practice. During my PhD research, in a different yet not completely unconnected field of international law, I practiced (and I still do) as an attorney in international litigation at the Bar in Belgium. This combination of theory and practice from the start has triggered my interest and fascination for the way in which law applies in practice, the various techniques actors have at their disposal to settle disputes, the procedural questions that arise in litigation, the litigation strategies parties adopt, and the theoretical underpinnings of dispute settlement. Moreover, international dispute settlement is a lively field of research – almost every dispute raises novel questions.

This practical experience, coupled with teaching several International Dispute Settlement courses in the Master programmes at Leiden Law School, which I joined in 2007 after completion of my PhD, have only further captivated my interest in this dynamic field.

Why is the Chair IDS based in The Hague?

Basing the Chair in The Hague is acutely related to the identity of The Hague as the city of Peace and Justice. Starting with the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, The Hague has established itself as the venue for international dispute settlement initiatives. It hosts the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal to name only a few of the most important courts and tribunals which settles international legal disputes. The proximity of the Law School’s presence at the Campus The Hague and these renowned international institutions opens the possibility to develop interesting collaborative projects, and creates synergies between the theory and the practice of international dispute settlement. The Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, and Leiden Law School in general, has since long established itself as a leading institution in research and teaching in international law, with a specific focus on how international law works in practice. Establishing the Chair of International Dispute Settlement in The Hague seems a logical choice.

With whom are you collaborating?

Besides collaborating with other departments of the Law School, such as the Department of Civil Law and the Financial Law Institute to name but a few, the Grotius Centre in The Hague collaborates closely with several institutions in The Hague and elsewhere. We have for instance established a yearly International Arbitration Training Course with the Permanent Court of Arbitration which takes place end of August each year. We also hold close contacts with the International Court of Justice, with which, for instance, we have a special traineeship programme, and the Hague Academy. Outside of the Netherlands, I work closely with the African Institute for International Law based in Arusha (Tanzania) in the organization of training courses on international investment law and arbitration, the University of Indonesia (UI) in the framework of a NUFFIC project on capacity-building in international investment arbitration, and various other institutions.  Finally, I work closely with the Municipally of The Hague, which is keen on further strengthening its profile as the City of Peace and Justice and is developing many initiatives in the area of international dispute settlement and arbitration.

What do you hope to achieve in the first year as Chair?

The first and foremost task that lies ahead of me is to ascertain Leiden Law School and the Grotius Centre as a centre of expertise on the research and teaching in international dispute settlement in The Hague.

More practically, and besides performing and supervising teaching and research on the foundations, dynamics and practice of international dispute settlement, I aim to further strengthening our activities in this field. Two years ago, I launched a special track on international dispute settlement within the existing Advanced Master Programme in Public International Law. This track has proven very successful amongst our students, and I am currently transforming this track into a separate LLM Advanced Programme on International Dispute Settlement and Arbitration. This programme will have unique features in that it aims to train a new generation of international dispute settlement specialists with a focus on litigation and arbitration in public international law but also in other areas of the law. I will also record a MOOC on international arbitration in The Hague, the third component of the three-pronged MOOC entitled ‘International in Action’ which the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies has developed.

In addition, furthering the professional training course on arbitration, offered in The Hague to practitioners world-wide with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and developing other forms of professional training in international dispute settlement will be an important part of my work in the coming year.

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