The ‘Gänseliesel’ (Goose Girlis), a historical fountain erected in 1901, represents the most well-known landmark of the city of Goettingen.


Is the International Law Commission Taking Regionalism Seriously (Enough)?

Janina Barkholdt



Regionalism poses a challenge to the work of the International Law Commission (ILC). The Commission, entrusted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with the “progressive development of international law and its codification”, is tasked with identifying and elaborating universally accepted and acceptable rules of international law. The challenge posed by regionalism lies in its ambivalent role precisely in relation to the mandate of the ILC: on the one hand, a significant share of practice in international law is generated at the regional level. Since regional practice thus constitutes a substantial part of State practice, the ILC cannot avoid taking regional practice into account if it is to identify and develop common rules. On the other hand, regionalism often involves claims for special legal treatment based on the affiliation with a region; thus, deviations from precisely those general legal rules which the ILC seeks to codify and develop. The present contribution analyses how the Commission has approached regionalism in its previous work and identifies four approaches. It shows that each of these approaches suffers from shortcomings. At the same time, the current projects on General principles of law (GPL) and Sea-level rise in relation to international law possibly indicate the emergence of a more fruitful fifth approach. Based on this analysis, the present contribution shows that the practice of the ILC evinces two methodological challenges arising from regional plurality –, the challenge of equal regional representation and the challenge of regional exceptionalism, – and makes suggestions as to how to address these in the future.



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