Obituaries at ILC (Professor Alexander Yankov)
We were all deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Alexander Yankov on 17 October 2019. Professor Yankov (22 June 1924 – 2019) was a prominent jurist, a successful diplomat and a brilliant scholar. He was a former member of the UN International Law Commission (1977-1996) and its Chair in 1984. He also served as Special Rapporteur for the topic “Diplomatic Courier and Diplomatic Bag”.
I went through all the records on the officers of the Commission, and I found that in 1977, the first year he was elected as Member, he was already the Second Vice Chair, and he also served as the General Rapporteur in 1980. In 1983, he served as the First Vice Chair, and the following year he was finally elected as Chair of the Commission. The record does not stop there. He was gracefully downgraded to the Second Vice Chair in 1986, a post he held for the second time. He served as Chair of the Drafting Committee twice, in 1992 and 1995. Thus, he held all the officers’ posts of the Commission, twice in some cases, which is really a remarkable record. Towards the end of his 20-year tenure, he was profoundly respected and admired as the Dean of the Commission.
Professor Yankov had a long and very distinguished career in international law, and he held a number of important positions, including as Professor of International Law at the University of Sofia (Bulgaria) since 1973, Member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences since 1981, Bulgaria’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom (1972-1976) and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (1976-80).
He participated in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed (1968-1973) as its Deputy Chairman. He chaired the Third Committee of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in all sessions from 1973 to 1982.
Professor Yankov was also a Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA, 1971-88), and Judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS, 1996-2011).
Professor Yankov was an active member of the Institut de droit international (IDI) for 40 years, participating in more than 8 commissions, including piracy, provisional measures, the principle of equity in maritime delimitation and evidence in international litigation. We were delighted to have him attend the Tokyo session of IDI in 2013.
Professor Yankov was also very active in the International Law Association (ILA). It was my profound personal joy to see him at the Executive Council meetings in London once a year for about 5 years before 2011. He was President of ILA in 2012, hosting the very successful biannual conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. I very much cherish the photo we took together on that occasion.
Professors Yankov and Murase, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2012
If I may be permitted, I would like to share with you my personal experience with Professor Yankov. When I was a staff member of the Codification Division and the Secretariat of the Commission in 1981, I was assigned to assist him. Professor Yankov was then Special Rapporteur for the topic “Diplomatic Bag and Diplomatic Courier”. I noticed at one point that he was writing his draft report using the backsides of the used UN documents. So, I brought him from the office of the Secretariat a bunch of blank sheets of paper. However, he declined to use them. He told me that his generation had had to go through great difficulty to find paper in their young days, and that he would not have been able to use a fresh sheet of paper just for writing drafts. I was so impressed, and from that time on, he became my lifetime teacher.
Professor Yankov was a man of great charm. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Eduardo Valencia-Ospina when he sent me a message saying: “We admired and respected him not only for his legal and diplomatic talent but above all by his humanity, which enabled us to relate to him in true friendship”. I am convinced that Professor Alexander Yankov will be remembered for a long time.