Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rambod Behboodi*

It is fitting perhaps that on this sad occasion, I should be writing from Geneva, the seat of the Human Rights Council, and only a few hundred kilometres from the European Court of Human Rights, of which Professor Macdonald was a long-serving Judge. Perhaps as important is the fact that in part inspired by him and his teaching, I have spent the last twelve years - nearly my entire professional experience as a lawyer - dedicated to the cause of international law, and to propagating and safeguarding the rule of law in relations between states.

"Inspire" is the right word to use, in its true, mystical sense, because international law is, at bottom, not a fact but a matter of faith. Faith in the future; faith in the civilising force of law; faith in humanity. I see this in my daily work; we see this in the daily news. The law is the law not because it is written somewhere upon a stone tablet (gathering moss in a forgotten trench or dust in a museum), but rather, because we wish it to be so, we will it to be so, and we daily affirm it in our discourse and our intercourse, as lawyers, citizens, professors, practitioners ...

And Ron had this faith, this abiding belief in the law and in international law, in heaps.

But it was faith with a concrete basis, aiming for concrete results. Not for Ron the abstractions - though he was not a stranger to them - nor the ideals, ever so dangerous, of the "perfectibility of man" or some such nonsense. So far as I could see as a pupil, his faith arose out of his study of real historical experiences. Each class, we did not discuss philosophies or philosophers, but men and women of action, and their actions, that drove home the value of the law to a civilised nation and a civilised international community. From this concrete basis - the law as personified and crystallised in specific human action - to concrete results.

It was a tumultuous time, a time of great fears and grand hopes, a time when history ended for some and a new world order began for others. But Ron never took his eyes off the eight ball: what does it mean, he asked and pushed and prodded, to "authorise" action under Chapter Seven? What is this constitutional structure, the UN system, that we have suddenly discovered to be functioning, supposed to be doing, and how? What does it mean to the soldier on the ground, to be "enforcing" international law? What does it mean to the men and women on whom bombs rain for forty-seven days as the enforcement is being implemented? What is the point of compromise, as some suggested, when it makes hash of the constitutional regime's Prime Directive, territorial integrity? What is the essence of enforcement, when it could be put in place by trampling under jackboots another principle, Peace?

I am not sure my answers pleased him then, or if those answers then please me now. Ron never flagged in encouraging me to press on, to seek answers, to apply the law in concrete cases, to find the path to the preservation of the rule of law ... a path we leave at our mortal peril, as we discover now, as I experience in my daily life.

To Ron Macdonald, professor, mentor, friend, ... and inspiration.

*Senior Legal Advisor/Conseiller juridique principal
Mission du Canada aupr├Ęs de l'OMC/
Mission of Canada to the WTO


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