Conference Theme

The 12th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL) will take place in Riga, Latvia, on 8 - 10 September 2016. The Conference is hosted by Riga Graduate School of Law in cooperation with the Latvian Constitutional Court. The organisers are proud to announce the theme of the Conference: "How International Law Works in Times of Crisis".

In recent years the world has yet again been confronted with events that required decisions going to the heart of the international legal order, which it has sought to build since the creation of the United Nations and, especially, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The European Society of International Law has been looking into questions about the need for and legitimacy of international law. The 2016 ESIL annual conference in Rīga is taking place at a time when the word ‘crisis’ frequently comes to mind, either with reference to the European public order or international law in general, and the question of the role of international law is more pertinent than ever.

The territorial integrity of many States continues to be undermined. The rise of ISIS and the continued proliferation of other violent extremist groups provide serious challenges to the world order we have striven to build. Crises around the world range from more traditional threats to territorial integrity and security, through the use of modern technology or forms of warfare, to more fundamental challenges to the planet through climate change and environmental threats. Problems in the global, European and national economies and financial markets provide yet further examples of crises. Many of these developments are interlinked. For example, the unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees into Europe is linked to security, the economy, and climate change. This is all taking place at a time when globalization is a reality and traditional societal boundaries are continually being eroded through ever-developing interdependencies while at the same time faced with growing nationalism.

These developments raise challenges at two levels. One is to ask whether international law itself is in crisis. Is it possible to identify challenges to the basic underpinnings of the traditional international legal order that would be qualitatively different from those faced previously? Another way of posing the question is to enquire whether international law is up to the task of dealing with particular crises.

It should, of course, be recognized that crises are not new for the discipline of international law. It has been argued that a sense of crisis is integral to the discipline. The role, relevance and institutions of international law have always been challenged, especially when faced with different kinds of crisis. Moreover, moments of crisis may offer new possibilities. Historically, such moments have led to new solutions in the world community, including new projects involving normative developments. Be that as it may, international lawyers should confront and address this sense of crisis embedded in their discipline.

Against this background, the ESIL Conference in Rīga will address the theme How International Law Works in Times of Crisis.

The conference will provide an opportunity to discuss the crisis of international law, the international law of crisis, and also different biases and assumptions that contribute to questions about crisis. Questions that will be discussed include: In times of crisis, how does international law work? More specifically: How is international law rising to the challenge of contemporary crises, of capturing old and factually new phenomena and dealing with them in a normative context? What is the role of international lawyers in addressing the old and new crises? What role is assumed by (regional) organizations and the European Union in particular as well as non-state actors in this context of multiple tensions and multiple visions of the past and the future? This focus invites legal and interdisciplinary approaches to address these issues more generally as well as in different specialised areas of international law.