In Memoriam Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as UN Secretary-general. Credit: UN Photo, http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/gallery.jsp?query=boutros-ghali.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as UN Secretary-general. Credit: UN Photo, http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/gallery.jsp?query=boutros-ghali.

International lawyers mourn the loss of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who died on 16 February 2016. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations was indeed not only a diplomat, but a prominent expert in public international law, demonstrating a constant commitment to the rule of law and for justice in international relations. He was a Professor of international law (and international relations) at Cairo University for decades, and a Visiting Professor at various universities including the Faculty of Law at Paris University from 1967 to 1968. He lectured at the Hague Academy of International Law and was a member of the Curatorium of the Academy since 1982, serving as its President from 2002 until his death. As the Hague Academy recalled in a statement, it was upon Boutros-Ghali’s initiative that the famous External Programme of the Academy was created approximately fifty years ago, and he had been a tireless promoter of its Centre for Studies and Research.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the author, at a february 2013 conference on international sanctions.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the author, at a february 2013 conference on international sanctions.

On a more personal note, I remember having had a chance to chair a panel at a conference on international sanctions in Paris in 2013 where the former Secretary-General delivered a keynote speech on ‘sanctions in a divided world’, where he noted the increasing use of unilateral sanctions and questioned this practice against the background of the collective security system of the UN Charter. He spoke with much clarity and accuracy, referring to his own experience as Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-1996). He noted that he had endeavoured so as to clarify aspects relating to the implementation and application of international sanctions, including in his report entitled ‘Supplement to Agenda for Peace’ in 1995. He also stressed:

[P]rudence is needed in the taking and the implementation of sanctions to avoid giving the impression that they are taken in a spirit of revenge, as a punishment, rather than aiming at a modification of illicit political behavior endangering international peace and security or to compel a State to abide by its international obligations.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali recalled in his keynote that priority should be given to the peaceful settlement of disputes by all means of negotiation and mediation, and that sanctions should only be imposed as a last resort when all pacific measures have proven useless, and only in a balanced and proportionate way. Describing them as a ‘blunt tool’, he stressed:

[Sanctions] raise the ethical question whether the suffering inflicted on vulnerable groups in a targeted country is a legitimate means to exercise pressure on the political elite of the said country. The question is whether these measures really affect the political rulers or if they use the civilian population as an hostage to compel the rulers by turning public opinion against them. The experience has demonstrated, in that respect, that sanctions have unpredicted and unintended effects.

Secretary-general boutros boutros-ghali and chairman tommy koh at the historic earth summit in 1992. CREDIT: UN PHOTO, HTTP://WWW.UNMULTIMEDIA.ORG/PHOTO/GALLERY.JSP?QUERY=BOUTROS-GHALI.

Secretary-general boutros boutros-ghali and chairman tommy koh at the historic earth summit in 1992. CREDIT: UN PHOTO, HTTP://WWW.UNMULTIMEDIA.ORG/PHOTO/GALLERY.JSP?QUERY=BOUTROS-GHALI.