Obituaries at ILC: Eulogy for Professor James Crawford

Eulogy for Professor James Crawford: International Law Commission (ILC), 22 July 2021 (A/CN.4/ SR 3547)

              Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the floor to speak in memory of Judge James Crawford. 

              Like everybody else, I learned, with deep sorrow, of the untimely death of Judge James Crawford on 31 May 2021. It was some of my students in Beijing who first gave me the news through WeChat. I am from Japan, but I have been teaching in China. Professor Crawford has been very popular among Chinese students of international law. He visited Peking University in early 1990s at the invitation of Professor Wang Tieya. He taught at Xi’an Jiaotong University since 2013 as well as at the Xiamen Academy of International Law in 2015. So, my students from Peking University and University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (formerly China Youth University of Political Studies) join me in expressing our deepest regrets over the passing of Professor James Crawford.

I apologize at the outset that my remarks today are rather personal. I will touch mainly on his activities in the relevant academic associations. 

I first met Professor Crawford in Tokyo in the early 1990s. Over dinner, we talked about the ILC, as I had worked for its Secretariat before, and James had just become a member. We instantly became close friends, which was at least the impression I had on my side. While Director of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law in Cambridge, he was kind enough to invite me to give a lunch-time lecture in 2001. In the following year, he arranged that my article on Thomas Baty be published in the 2002 issue of the British Year Book of International Law,[1] for which he was serving as Editor at the time. Thus, I owe him a great deal personally.

              We overlapped at the Curatorium of the Hague Academy of International Law for some thirteen years.[2] We met there twice a year. I recall that President Boutros Boutros-Ghali and all other members of the Curatorium were invited to a dinner at the beautiful residence of the Brazilian Ambassador in The Hague in 2006, when Mr. Gilberto Saboia, our colleague, was Ambassador to the Netherlands. Professor Crawford had great authority at the Curatorium, and he was respected as its de facto “Dean”. At the Program (Selection) Committee meetings of the Curatorium, he always supported my proposals for professors to deliver lectures at the summer courses. Together, we tried to get as many professors as possible from Asia and Africa, long under-represented in the Academy’s summer program.

              However, there was an unfortunate incident. One of the professors whom I nominated for the summer course, supported by all the Curatorium members, turned out to be unprepared. Many students complained. Hearing about this incident, I felt awfully responsible, and I immediately tendered my resignation to the Curatorium. Professor Crawford, together with Professor Yves Daudet, then the Academy’s Secretary General, asked not to resign, saying that we had all thought the professor was a good choice, and if I had resigned, all of the Curatorium members would have to resign as well. So, I withdrew my resignation. I witnessed a similar incident a few years ago at the Xiamen Academy of International Law, and I guess, unfortunately, it is not a unique phenomenon.  

              Professor Crawford gave a Special Course at the Academy in 1997, as well as the General Course in 2013[3]. Both texts have a prominent place in the Collected Courses, in which he is immortalized for his contributions. The general course was attended by an unprecedented number of students who came from all over the world.[4] We were all surprised that he submitted his manuscript of the general course not only in its original English language but also in French. 

The French translation had been done, I think, by Professor Freya Baetens, whom James married in 2014. I had known Freya even before their marriage. Sometime around 2010 or 11, Professor Don McRae asked me to comment on a part of Freya’s PhD dissertation related to the Most-Favored-Nation Clause, which was the topic of my Doctoral dissertation some 40 years before, So, I sent her my comments, and we exchanged a few emails afterwards. Freya is now editor-in-chief of The Law and Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, succeeding the former editor, our colleague, Eduardo Valencia-Ospina. So, Freya is very much part of our international-law family.

              James Crawford joined the Institut de droit international (IDI) in 1985 as an associate member. At that time, he was the youngest member of the Institute, and became a titular member in 1991. It was a pleasure to have him attend the IDI Tokyo session in 2013. At the 2015 IDI conference in Tallin, Professor Crawford brought his new-born baby with him to the conference, and he was showing him off to everybody. His son, then just being one year old, is, no doubt, the youngest person who has ever attended an IDI conference. James and Freya should be congratulated for this record.

              Professor Crawford made immense contribution to the work of the IDI, actively participating in various commissions, including those on State Immunity, Teaching of International Law and the Use of Force. His most recent contribution was a chapter of a book commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Institute, which will be published in 2023.[5]

Returning to the ILC, Professor Georg Nolte and others have written about the history of the ILC, but I will briefly refresh our memory. The ILC’s first 15 years were a glorious period of significant accomplishment through many codification conventions, followed by the decades of 1970s and 80s when the Commission was faced with many difficulties and declining productivity. Then, there was a short, bright period of the “revival” at the Commission in the 1990s, culminating with the Draft ICC Statute in 1994 and the completion of the State Responsibility Articles in 2001. It is undeniable that this revival of the ILC was only possible because of Professor Crawford’s enormous contributions. We have to admit that the Commission has not come back to the level of those days after his departure from the Commission in 2001. As the ILC has not been relevant to the pressing needs of the international community, its role has largely been marginalized for the past two decades. 

When I was elected to the ILC in 2009, James Crawford sent me a friendly note of congratulations, in which he said: “You have big shoes to fill”. I did not know what exactly he meant by this English idiom, but I suspected that he meant that the ILC was then at a crossroads, facing many serious challenges. I think that we, the current members (and future members as well) have a heavy responsibility to face these challenges so that we can meet, even partially, the expectations that Professor-Judge James Crawford has placed on us. We all have big shoes to fill in this Commission.

              Thank you. 


[1] Shinya Murase, “Thomas Baty in Japan: Seeing Through the Twilight”, British Yearbook of International Law, Volume 73, Issue 1, 2002, Pages 315–342

[2] James Crawford became a member of the Curatorium in 1999, and I joined in 2004. We resigned at about the same time in around 2017.

[3] James Crawford, “Chance, Order, Change: The Course of International Law: General Course on Public International Law”, Recueil des cours, tom. 365, 2013.

[4] See Yves Daudet (President of the Hague Academy), “In Memoriam: James Crawford” https://www.hagueacademy.nl/in-memoriam-james-crawford/

[5] Letter addressed to Members of IDI, dated on 31 May 2021, by Professor Marcelo Kohen, IDI Secretary General.

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