Teaching the course ‘Public International Law’ at UvA

July 31, 2019

From April until July 2019, I taught the course ‘Public International Law’ at PPLE College at the University of Amsterdam, together with Emma Rengers and prof. Marjoleine Zieck. In the previous academic year 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, I had the honor to teach the same course at PPLE.

What is PPLE College? 

PPLE is a Bachelor’s programme combining four disciplines, namely Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE). It is a collaboration between the faculties of Economics and Business, Social and Behavioural Sciences, and Law. The programme is founded on the notion that the contemporary challenges posed by a globalising economy, international terrorism and social inequality cannot be addressed from the vantage point of one academic discipline. PPLE College started in September 2014 and has built up a steady flow of 200 students a year, and this number is increasing. What I especially like about PPLE is that about half of the students come from abroad. See this website for more information about the academic programme.

Book ‘International Law’ of Henriksen

The previous academic years (2016-2017 and 2017-2018), I have taught this course with prof. Yvonne Donders and we have used different handbooks over the years. In the academic year 2016-2017, we used the textbook of Rebecca Wallace and Olga Martin-Ortega, entitled International Law, which is published by Sweet & Maxwell. However, in the academic year 2017-2018 we decided to change it and we used the textbook of Anders Henriksen, also entitled International Law, which is published by Oxford University Press. This year we also used the book of Henriksen, as both the students and ourselves were very enthusiastic about it.

Public International Law

Public International Law is a second year course and provides a general introduction to the fundamental principles of public international law and the nature and structures of the international legal system. It addresses the sources of international law, such as treaties and customary law, the main players on the international scene, being States, but also non-State actors such as international organisations, individuals and multinational corporations, and the relationship and interaction between international and national law. The course briefly touches upon the basics of different fields of international law (international humanitarian law, international environmental law and international economic law) and address several specific substantive issues such as the use of force, dispute settlement and state responsibility. This year, we had a focus on international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law. Upon completion of the course, students will have an analytical understanding of the system of international law which will enable them to proceed with more advanced courses in the area of public international law.

Intense course

The course was quite intense with two lectures and two tutorials per week. The lectures (given by prof. Marjoleine Zieck) provided a general introduction into the main doctrines and topics of public international law, with a focus on the UN system. During the tutorials (given by Emma and myself), we addressed the topics addressed in the lecture and those were object of more interactive analysis and discussion.

Topics I covered during my tutorials included, among others:

  • Relationship between international and national law
  • Recognizing the sources of international law
  • Secret treaties
  • States, recognition, sovereignty and jurisdiction
  • Immunity
  • Air and space law
  • International law of the sea
  • Non-state actors and state responsibility
  • Harmful practices and violence against women
  • Climate change refugees
  • ICJ jurisdiction
  • The Syrian conflict through the lens of international law
  • Law of armed conflict

Examination

The examination of this course included a three-hour written exam. We also had a midterm exam half-way the course and an assignment. The assignment was to write – in groups of 5 students – a brief for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. More specifically, the brief would inform the High Commissioner to make sure he knows what is going on in that country, in particular with respect to forced displacement: IDPs, refugees, treatment of refugees and durable solutions. The students prepared the brief (max 750 words) and presented it during class. This brief would enable the High Commissioner, along with a short presentation, to engage in useful talks in the country he will be visiting. The countries that students could choose from included Uganda, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Greece, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Italy, Libya, Lebanon, and the EU.

I really enjoyed teaching this course, and the student evaluations were very positive! Students gave me the overall grade 8.3, which made me very happy. And it is with great enthusiasm to let you know that I will be teaching the same course next year again!