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A Legal Journey Through the UN, Academia, and the ICJ: Conversations with Dame Rosalyn Higgins DBE, JSD, FBA, QC

  • Lesley Dingle

This article, written by Lesley Dingle, is based upon an in-depth interview with Dame Rosalyn Higgins in March 2014. It highlights particular elements that characterise her contribution to legal scholarship and international adjudication, and should be read in the context of the biography presented in the Eminent Scholars Archive: Dame Rosalyn Higgins was born in Kensington in 1937. She grew up in London during the Blitz and her matter-of-fact account of these times epitomised her later career: application to the task in hand, and a lack of a sense of expectation. After the War, she passed successively through grammar school, Girton College, Yale and the Royal Institute of International affairs, steadily immersing herself over fifteen years in the work of the United Nations during its formative period. It was on the UN's role as the global peace-keeper and international law-maker that she became the acknowledged authority. There followed a long period of formal academia (1978–95: Kent and LSE), during which she rose to high office. This experience further honed her scholarly and administrative instincts, and she was honoured in 1995 with a DBE. Later that year Dame Rosalyn was appointed to the Bench of the International Court of Justice – the first woman to rise to this position, and in 2006 was elected its President. She retired in 2009.

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All quotes are referred to question numbers in the original transcript: Qx.

2 “International Law since 1945: A Personal Journey” which Dame Rosalyn gave as the Balzan Lecture at the University of Zurich, 22 November 2007. Reprinted in Themes and Theories: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Writings in International Law. 2009, Vols 1 & 2. 1421pp, OUP, pages 1–13.

3 Q.14.

4 Marjorie Tappan Hollond , 1895–1977, Lecturer in Economics, Bursar of Girton College. Born in New York, came to Britain at the end of the First World War. Married to equally eccentric Professor Henry Arthur Hollond (1888–1974), Rouse Ball Professor of English Law (1943–50).

5 Q.11.

6 Who was then head of the UN Law Department. Oscar Schachter (1915–2003). US international lawyer and diplomat at United Nations. Hamilton Fish Professor of International Affairs, Columbia University (1980–2003).

7 The UN was still only thirteen years old in 1958, and the UN had embarked on its first peacekeeping mission (to Egypt) only in 1956.

8 Q.40.

9 1969–81. UN Peacekeeping: documents and commentary, : Royal Inst. Int. Affairs, London.

10 Q.130.

11 Q.135.

12 Sir Kenneth Gilmour Younger (1908–76), Labour politician and barrister in the Attlee government. Opposition spokesman under Hugh Gaitskell. Director of Chatham House.

13 Sir Andrew Shonfield (1917–81). Economist. Chairman Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). Foreign editor The Financial Times (1950–8).

14 Q.48.

15 Terence Langley Higgins, Baron Higgins (1928 - ), British Conservative politician (MP for Worthing, 1964–97), Commonwealth Games silver medalist for England, British Olympic teams 1948, 52. Knighted 1993, ennobled 1997.

16 Q.85–86.

17 Q. 62.

18 Paraphrasing from Christopher Greenwood, 1996, ICLQ 45(3) 750-51, in a review of Higgins's book Problems and Process: International Law and how we use it.

19 Professor Myres S. McDougal (1906–98). Yale Law School (1934–84).

20 Q.26.

21 1963. Royal Institute of International Affairs, Oxford University Press, 402pp.

22 Later Whewell Professor of International Law. In CLJ [1964] p. 307.

23 Ibid.

24 Oscar Schachter (1915–2003). US international lawyer and diplomat at United Nations. Hamilton Fish Professor of International Affairs, Columbia University (1980–2003).

25 AJIL [1965] 59 p. 168.

26 2009, p.3.

27 Ibid.

28 Q.138.

29 See 2009 Themes & Theories, p.10, Introductory Chapter.

30 Q.101.

31 1996 Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons.

32 Judge Vladlen S. Vereshchetin. Russian Former Member of the ICJ, Honorary Director of the International Institute of Space Law.

33 Q.117.

34 Peter Duffy, QC (1954–99). Human rights lawyer at Queen Mary College, London. Chairman, Amnesty International executive committee (1989–91).

35 Q.53.

36 Q.60.

37 1994 Clarendon Press. 274 pp.

38 Q.140.

39 2006. See “A conversation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice”, 1269–1285 in 2009 Themes & Theories.

40 Condoleezza Rice, (1954–), Political scientist and diplomat, 66th US Secretary of State. President Bush's National Security Advisor during his first term.

41 2009 Themes & Theories, p.1284.

43 Q.149.

44 1994. Problems and Process: International Law and how we use it. Clarendon Press. 274 pp.

45 1993. Postmodern Tribalism and the Right to Secession, Comments. In: C. Brölmann, R. Lefeber & M. Zieck, Eds., Peoples and Minorities in International Law, 29–35, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff.

46 Sir Vincent Evans, (1915–2007). Member & Vice-Chairman UN Human Rights Committee (1977–84), Judge, European Court of Human Rights (1980–91).

47 Q.80.

48 Claire Palley, OBE (1931–), Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean). Lecturer, University of Cape Town, Advocate in South Africa and Rhodesia & Nyasaland, Dean of Law, Queen's University Belfast, Professor of Law Kent (1973–84), Principal St Anne's College Oxford (1984–91). Member of UN Sub-Comittee on Discrimination.

49 Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931–) President of the USSR (1990 to 1991).

50 David Anthony Llewellyn Owen, Baron Owen, (1938–), Labour Foreign Secretary (1977–79), one of the “Gang of Four” who founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981.

51 Judge Fausto Pocar, (1939–) Italian jurist. Professor of International Law, University of Milan. Member Human Rights Committee of the UN (1984–2000) , Chairman (1991–2).

52 Q82–83. See also 2009 Themes & Theories p. 4 (Balzan lecture).

54 Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, Baron Desai (1940–). Economist and UK Labour politician. Wrote Marxian Economic Theory (1973), Applied Econometrics (1976). Lecturer & Professor at LSE (1965–)

55 Kenneth Robert Minogue (1930–2013). Australian political theorist. Professor of Economics LSE (from 1959).

56 Q 75.

57 Q.76.

58 Q.56.

59 Q.93.

60 Q.9.

61 Q.100.

62 Q.104.

63 International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

64 Q.104 & 108.

65 Q.118.

66 Q.105.

67 Q.112

68 Q.118

69 2009. Themes & Theories: Selected Essays, Speeches and Writings in International Law 2009, Vols 1 & 2. 1421pp, OUP, pages 1–13.

70 See L. Dingle, “Legal Biography, Oral History and the Cambridge Eminent Scholars Archive (ESA)” [2014] 14 LIM 58 – 68

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