The Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights
Faculty of Law
P.O. BOX 4 (visiting address: Yliopistonkatu 3)
Tel: +358 (0)29 4123140



Civil War, Intervention, and International Law

Erik Castrén Lecture on International Law

Anne Orford

Time: Thursday 15 January 2015, 14.00-16.00

Venue: Porthania (Yliopistonkatu 3), P673 (6th floor)

Abstract: Whether, and under what conditions, external actors can intervene in civil wars continues to be a pressing question for international law and politics. The intensity of debates about the legality of US intervention in Iraq and Syria on the one hand, and Russian intervention in Ukraine on the other, illustrates the urgency of this question and the difficulty of finding general principles to address it. This lecture will evaluate whether and how interventions in civil wars to protect civilians or defeat non-state terrorist groups have reshaped the foundational legal principles concerning prohibition of force and non-intervention over the past two decades. In so doing, it will seek to unsettle the growing cynicism about international law that is produced by the use of the rhetoric of legality by all sides in civil wars. American military lawyers have developed the concept of ‘lawfare’ to describe the tactical deployment of international legal arguments as part of political battles, and scholars have sought to develop accounts of international law that recognise the potential for law to be used as a weapon and a strategic partner in warfare as well as a restraint on violence and an ethical yardstick. This lecture will not seek to dismiss the recognition that international law is political, but rather will seek to avoid a cynical reaction to that recognition. Rather than treating the inability of law to remain ‘above’ the political battle as a problem, the lecture will ask whether it is possible to develop a foundation for contemporary public debates about the legality of intervention that takes conflicts over empirical evidence and normative arguments, or facts and values, seriously.

Bio: Anne Orford is Michael D Kirby Chair of International Law and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Melbourne Law School. She is the current holder of the Hedda Andersson Visiting Chair in the Department of History at Lund University. She is the President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law, and was the founding Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities at Melbourne Law School (2005-2012). She holds the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Lund University and the University of Gothenburg, and was awarded the 2013 Woodward Medal for Excellence in Humanities and Social Sciences by the University of Melbourne.