Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Call for Papers: Making International Custom More Tangible

The McCoubrey Centre for International Law at the University of Hull Law School has issued a call for papers for its second conference for research students and early career researchers, which will take place July 2-3, 2015. The topic is "Making International Custom More Tangible." Here's the call:

University of Hull

Law School


2nd Conference for Research Students and Early Career Researchers:

‘Making International Custom More Tangible’

2 & 3 July 2015

Keynote Speaker:

Sir Michael Wood

Special Rapporteur of the International Law Commission on the

Formation and Evidence of Customary International Law

The McCoubrey Centre for International Law is hosting its second conference for research students and early career scholars. The conference will address questions surrounding the enduring, and yet topical issue of customary international law.

The role and function of custom has provided fertile ground for academic debate for as long as States have existed – and for even longer if one considers that this is a concept inherent in all societies. Every student of international law must come quickly to terms with the complexities of how customary international law is made, understand the meaning and significance of authoritative decisions of international tribunals, and become familiar with the vast and varied literature on the subject. Equally, commentators and practitioners must become adept at turning such understanding to their advantage when applying it to concrete questions about the substance of international law. Although custom is absolutely necessary, it remains a problematic source of international law, and one which offers little legal certainty.

In 2012, the International Law Commission placed the topic of ‘Formation and Evidence of Customary International Law’ on its agenda, with the aim of addressing the ‘methodological question of the identification of existence and content of the rules of customary international law’. In 2014, the ILC examined 11 draft conclusions produced by its Special Rapporteur, Sir Michael Wood. Whilst there was general agreement about the two-element approach to custom, a number of other important questions were raised for consideration:

  • How should practice from different parts of the world be treated?
  • How much reliance should be placed upon the jurisprudence of the ICJ?
  • When a rule of custom is disputed, who has the burden of proof?
  • What meaning attaches to the constituent elements of custom?
  • What role do international organisations play in the process?
  • What does opinio juris mean?
  • How do we account for ‘deviant’ State practice?

Beyond these specific questions, more general and, perhaps, fundamental questions about the function of customary international law persist. For example, what is the appropriate methodology for the study and identification of custom? Is it truly a source of positive international law? How does it relate to and/or interact with other sources of international law? From where does the normative power of custom stem? Is the theory of persistent objection a valid international law rule – and, if so, what is its practical effect? What does sive necessitatis mean with regard to opinio juris? What are the roles of judges and courts/tribunals in custom making? Is regional custom a source of fragmentation in the international legal order? Is the process of custom-making common to all regimes of international law? In what way do human rights have an impact on the development of custom? Is custom one of the ingredients of the constitutionalisation of international law? Does custom still exert a universalising force? To what extent can custom generate the carefully calibrated or differentiated rules of law required by the international community? Can rules of custom originating in behavioural patterns secure compliance during their formative (and summative) stages? How can other disciplines contribute to our understanding of custom in international law?

The principal aims of the McCoubrey Centre Conference are to promote wider debate on the issues being addressed by the ILC, to stimulate research on the topic by younger academics, and to contribute to a wider understanding of the foundations and function of customary international law in the 21st century.

In light of the above, the conference themes are:

  • What role can and should custom play in the making of international law?
  • The normative foundations of custom (i.e. what makes custom law)
  • Evidential requirements for customary international law (e.g. constituent elements, context, and burden of proof)
  • The role of national and international courts in the creation of customary rules
  • The role of non-State actors in the development of customary international law
  • Regional variations in the process/content of customary international law
  • Variations in the ‘method’ of customary international law in different fields/regimes of international law
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to custom

In addition to considering these themes, proposals are welcomed on other topics, including: the scope of the ILC’s programme; the changing function of custom; the relationship between custom and other sources of international law, and the place of custom in the theories of international law.

All panels will be chaired by leading academics, who will be invited to comment on the papers.


Interested participants should provide an abstract of no more than 500 words by 15 February 2015. Abstracts shall be uploaded on the conference’s webpage at []. If you wish to discuss topics or ideas informally please contact Dr. Vassilis P. Tzevelekos at [].

Speakers will be informed of acceptance of their papers by 6 March 2015, and will be expected to submit either a full or outline paper by 1 June. Presentations should be no longer than 20 minutes in duration.

Speakers will be required to pay a £20 conference participation fee, and will also be required to meet the cost of travel and accommodation.

Selected papers will appear in a volume edited by the McCoubrey Centre for International Law.


Abstract submission by: 15 February 2015

Selection of papers by: 6 March 2015

Submission of conference papers by: 1 June 2015

Organising Committee:

Professor Richard Barnes, Professor Lindsay Moir, Dr. Vassilis P. Tzevelekos, Dr Carmino Massarella, Ms Mercedes Rosello.