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This workshop asked a question that is deceptive in its simplicity: How might international law have been otherwise?

This conference was organised by ACIL in the framework of Law and Justice Across Borders .

We wanted to question the present state of international law by challenging its pretence to necessity and by better understanding the forces that have shaped it. Put simply with Robert Musil: "If there is a sense of reality, there must also be a sense of possibility.”  The overarching aim was to expose the contingencies of international law’s development by inquiring into international law’s past. Such inquiries may be of systematic purport – asking, for example, how a different conception of the sources of international law could have emerged. Or they may focus on specific areas of the law, asking questions like whether the idea of state crimes could have taken hold or whether the NIEO could have achieved greater success. International law’s past is almost certainly ripe with possibilities that we have forgotten. The workshop sought to reveal and remember them.

Videos of the conference

Welcome by André Nollkaemper, Dean and Professor of Public International Law at the Faculty of Law

Introduction by Ingo Venzke, Director of the Amsterdam Center for International Law

Keynote by Fleur Johns, Professor, Associate Dean, UNSW Law

Closing address by Samuel Moyn, Professor of Law and History, Yale

Keynote speaker

Fleur Johns, UNSW

Fleur Johns works in the areas of public international law and legal theory. Fleur studies patterns of governance on the global plane, employing an interdisciplinary approach that draws on the social sciences and humanities and combines the study of public and private law. 

Closing Address

Samuel Moyn, Yale University

Samuel Moyn's areas of interest in legal scholarship include international law, human rights, the law of war, and legal thought, in both historical and current perspective. In intellectual history, he has worked on a diverse range of subjects, especially twentieth-century European moral and political theory.


  • Thursday 14 June

    12:00-13:00 Welcome Lunch - 1st floor: 'Eiland'

    13:00-13:30 Introduction, A3.15

    André Nollkaemper, Dean, Faculty of Law
    Kevin Jon Heller & Ingo Venzke, University of Amsterdam

    13:30-15:15 Panel 1 – Necessity, Possibility & Imagination, A3.15

    Chair: Janne Nijman, University of Amsterdam

    • Umut Öszu, Carleton University: The Necessity of Contingency
    • Karen Knop, University of Toronto: Utopia Without Apology
    • Gerry Simpson, London School of Economics: gardening, instead
    • Chase Madar, NYU, Gallatin School: The Picaresque Novel of International Law

    15:15-15:45 Coffee Break - 3rd floor


    Panel 2.1 – Resources, Trade & Sea, A3.15

    Chair: Mohsen Al-Attar, University of Warwick

    • Isabel Feichtner, Julius-Maximilians-Universität: Might International Law Loose its Exploitation Bias?
    • Lucas Lixinski, University of New South Wales - Sydney & Mats Ingulstad, Norwegian University of Science and Technology: Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources: A revisionist (and alternative) history
    • Alex Oude Elferink, NILOS, Utrecht University: What if the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea had entered into force without amending the regime for deep seabed mining: Business as usual or chaos for the oceans?
    • Surabhi Ranganathan, University of Cambridge: Contingency and false contingency in the making of the law of the sea

    Panel 2.2 – International Criminal Law, A3.01

    Chair: Harmen van der Wilt, University of Amsterdam

    • Mark Drumbl, Washington and Lee University: A World Without Justice Pal's Dissent
    • Ioannis Kalpouzos, City, University of London: Conceptual history and the recognition of contingency in International Criminal Law
    • Michele Tedeschini, SOAS, University of London: Unveiling Historical Necessity in International (Criminal) Law

    17:45-18:45 Public Lecture A0.01

    Fleur Johns, University of New South Wales - Sydney 
    On Nonevents
    Moderator: Kevin Jon Heller, University of Amsterdam

    19:30 Speakers’ Dinner

    Mama Makan, Spinozastraat 61, 1012 WX Amsterdam

  • Friday 15 June

    08:30-09:00 Coffee and Tea with Small Breakfast - 3rd floor


    Panel 3.1 – The State and its Absence, A3.15

    Chair: André Nollkaemper, University of Amsterdam

    • Hannah Franzki, University of Bremen: Corporate Sovereignty and the Contingency of the Nation State
    • Geoffrey Gordon, Asser Institute: Making time: Contingency and Determination in the Interaction of Time and Law
    • Henry Jones, University of Durham: The Contingency of Borders

    Panel 3.2 – Matters of Perspective A3.01

    Chair: Karen Knop, University of Toronto

    • Filipe dos Reis, University of Erfurt: Different Disciplines, Different Histories? On the Contingency of theObserver and the Turn(s) to History in International Relations and International Law
    • Edward J Kolla, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Qatar: Thinking the French Revolution: Towards an Historical Understanding of Change in International Law
    • Mark Hanna, Queen's University, Belfast: If the School of Salamanca Had Only Been More Sociological


    Panel 4.1 – Refugees & Migration, A3.15

    Chair: Marjoleine Zieck, University of Amsterdam

    • Bas Schotel, University of Amsterdam: The Sovereignty Clause: Why the Admission of Aliens Under International Law Could Not Have Been Otherwise
    • Christopher Szabla, Cornell University: Crossoads of Contingency? Differential Decolonizations of International Refugee and Migration Law and Governance

    Panel 4.2 – Colonialism, A3.01

    Chair: Surabhi Ranganathan, University of Cambridge

    • Emma Stone Mackinnon, University of Cambridge: Torture, the Right to Rebel, and Contests over the Geneva Conventions in the Algerian War for Independence
    • Petra Gümplová, Max Weber Kolleg, University of Erfurt: Rights of Conquest, Discovery and Occupation, and the Freedom of the Seas: the Colonial Invention of International Law and the Natural Resource Injustice
    • Genevieve Painter, McGill University:  Indigenous Declarations at the League of Nations: Speaking  Jurisdiction as Another International Law

    12:00-13:00 Lunch - 3rd floor


    Panel 5.1 – Decolonization and Economic Orders, A3.15

    Chair: Umut Öszu, Carleton University

    • Kevin Crow, University Halle-Wittenberg: Bandung’s Missed Legacies: Alternative Normative Approaches to International Law?
    • Britta Redwood, Yale University/Princeton University; What if Bretton Woods Had been a Success? Contemplating International Law in the Absence of U.S. Financial Hegemony
    • Lys Kulamadayil, The Graduate Institute Geneva; Fairy-Tale International Law

    Panel 5.2 – Contingent Courts & Adjudication, A3.01

    Chair: Corina Heri, University of Amsterdam 

    • Aden Knaap, Harvard University: A Court by Another Name: What if the Court of Arbitral Justice Had Been Formed?
    • Daniel Litwin, McGill University: Forgetting the Permanent Court of International Justice
    • Saïda El Boudouhi, University of Valenciennes: The ICJ as a World Court for Foreign Investment Cases: Imagining Another Outcome for the Barcelona Traction Case

    14:45-15:15 Coffee Break, 3rd floor


    Panel 6.1 – War A3.15

    Chair: Kim Christian Priemel, University of Oslo

    • Amanda Alexander, Australian Catholic University: Histories of Contingencies in International Humanitarian Law
    • Yaniv Roznai, Radzyner Law School: Anecdotes and the Development of International Law
    • Nicholas Mulder, Columbia University & Boyd van Dijk, King’s College London: Why Did Starvation Not Become the Paradigmatic War Crime in International Law?
    • Timothy William Waters, Indiana University: The Kaiser in the Castle: a Neo-Kakanian Perspective on our Present Predicament

    Panel 6.2 – Norm Structures A3.01

    Chair: Jacob Katz Cogan, University of Cincinnati

    • Teimuraz Antelava, European University Institute: From Early Codes of the 19th Century to Lagonissi Conference: What International Law on Peremptory Norms Could Have Been
    • Athanasios Chouliaras, Democritus University of Crete: International Crimes of State: Simply an old Idea or Better an Actual Necessity?
    • Anna Delić, Tilburg Law School: If a Cholera Outbreak Had Not Cancelled Mancini’s Congress
    • Tom Eijsbouts, University of Amsterdam: What of EU without 09 November 1989? An ABC of Chance and the Evolution of Public Law
Roeterseilandcampus - building A

Room Location
Nieuwe Achtergracht 166
1018 WV Amsterdam

  • Saturday 16 June

    09:00-09:30 Coffee and Tea with Small Breakfast, 3rd floor


    Panel 7.1 – Human Rights and Displacement, A3.15

    Chair: Yvonne Donders, University of Amsterdam

    • Anna Lukina, Hertford College, University of Oxford:  Who Was Right in the 1948 Debate? Soviet Constitutionalism and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    • Kathryn McNeilly, Queen’s University Belfast: International Human Rights Histories and Utopia Thought Otherwise
    • Itamar Mann, University of Haifa: Population Exchange

    Panel 7.2 – International Investment Law (I), A3.01

    Chair: Isabel Feichtner, Julius-Maximilians-Universität

    • Kathryn Greenman, University of Amsterdam/University of Melbourne: The Law of State Responsibility and the Persistence of Investment Protection
    • Silvia Steininger, MPI Heidelberg & Jochen von Bernstorff, University of Tübingen: Who Turned Multinational Corporations into Bearers of Human Rights? On Corporate 'Human' Rights in International Investment Protection
    • NtinaTzouvala, University of Melbourne: Neither an Accident nor a Destiny: Aleatory Materialism and the Battle for the History of International Investment Law


    Panel 8.1 – International Humanitarian Law, A3.15

    Chair: Terry Gill, University of Amsterdam

    • Bianca Maganza, The Graduate Institute Geneva: Historical Contingency in the Adoption of Art. 3 Geneva Conventions
    • Anthony J. Gaughan, Drake University Law School: D-Day, Collateral Damage, and the 1923 Hague Draft Rules of Aerial Warfare

    Panel 8.2 – International Investment Law (II), A3.01

    Chair: Stephan Schill, University of Amsterdam

    • Mary Footer, University of Nottingham & Michelle Staggs-Kelsall, University of Nottingham:  Cooperation, Organization and Conduct: Tripartite Contingencies and the Role of Voluntary Instruments in Shaping the Place of the Corporation in International Law
    • Josef Ostřanský, MIDS Geneva: From a Fortuitous Transplant to a Fundamental Principle of Law? A Short History of the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectations and the Political Economy of International Investment Law

    12:30-13:30 Lunch, 3rd floor

    13:30-15:00 Panel 9 – Possibilities of Change A3.15

    Chair: Kiki Brölmann, University of Amsterdam

    • Frederic Mégret, McGill University: A Road Not Taken: Open Borders, The Human Right to Immigrate and the History of International Law
    • Vidyar Kumar, University of Leicester: Revolutionary Contingency in International Law: People, Places, and Things
    • Justin Desautels-Stein, University of Colorado, Boulder: The Realist and the Visionary: on the Problem of Social Change in the History of International Legal Thought, 1919-2019

    15:00-16:00 Closing A1.02

    Samuel Moyn, Yale University
    Moderated by Marc de Wilde, University of Amsterdam

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