Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict: What Participants Say

Can you describe your current job and primary responsibilities?

I work for the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN and other organizations in Geneva. My duties include translating, copyediting and drafting various texts pertaining to the work of the UN and its specialized agencies, and generally working to enhance communications in English from the Government of Japan at international forums and online.

What motivated you to enroll in this programme?

I decided to enrol for two main reasons.

First, was to inform my work. I deal with a range of texts related to international law, particularly human rights law, in my job. Up to now, however, I have never formally studied law, so I wanted to do this programme to better understand the legal systems relevant to the topics I deal with. I hope this will help me to do a better job when reviewing texts and advising on diplomatic communications.

Second, was to build on previous academic pursuits with a more specific focus. I went back to school some years ago to do an online MSc in Global Challenges with the University of Edinburgh. This was an interdisciplinary degree focused on global challenges in the areas of development, health, and environment. Following that, I worked with some colleagues I studied alongside, with guidance from Professor Liz Grant, to develop a resource on the topic of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for children in conflict. As a result of this, I became interested to learn more about the applicable legal framework.

In what ways do you anticipate applying the specialized knowledge gained from this programme to your professional work?

As someone working in translation, copyediting and communications, I feel the better you understand the bigger picture behind what you work on the better a job you can do of conveying messages clearly. Essentially, I hope to provide more informed advice to my colleagues by applying the knowledge I gain.

Which specific courses or topics within the programme do you find most relevant to your professional development?

A large portion of my work focuses on human rights – for example, statements to be delivered at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) or responses from the Government of Japan to requests for information from the HRC’s Special Procedures. As such, I find the courses on international human rights law (IHRL) to be most directly related to my current work, but the programme as a whole also provides a lot of useful insights.

I would like to share an example of one such insight that shed light on a question of wording I encountered at work. While I was copyediting a draft human rights resolution, we received a brief comment from another Permanent Mission to the UN mentioning that when referring to failures to respect people’s rights by non-state actors we should use the term human rights ‘abuses’ as opposed to ‘violations’.

I never really found a good explanation of this online. But Professor Gloria Gaggioli clearly explained this distinction in the course she teaches on the law of non-international armed conflicts. When discussing the application of international human rights law (IHRL) to non-state actors, Professor Gaggioli pointed out that when we say ‘violations’ of the law or ‘obligations’ under the law, it means that you can pinpoint them to a specific source in international law, such as treaty law or customary law; and that under IHRL it is only states that clearly have such obligations. She went on to explain, however, that there are also trends of recognizing that non-state actors have some ‘duties’ or ‘ responsibilities’ (as opposed to ‘obligations’) to refrain from committing ‘abuses’ of human rights law. She noted that while these terms do not have a legal definition, they are used expressly to show that these duties or responsibilities are not the same as the positive obligations of states under the law. Professor Gaggioli added a further layer of nuance to her explanation that I will not go into here, but for me this was a moment when the course helped me to better understand an issue of usage that arose in my day-to-day work.

How has the diverse background of professionals in the programme enriched your learning experience?

The programme so far has been extremely rich thanks to the many experts we have had a chance to learn from. The instructors and teaching assistants have provided a wealth of carefully curated lectures and readings. They have done this in an engaging and interactive manner through live classes, including many references to case law, and are always ready to answer any questions we may have.

Our cohort is composed of professionals working for international organizations, government, NGOs, and the private sector with diverse experience in relevant fields. There is always a lot to learn from fellow participants’ questions and comments and the ensuing discussion. This has helped me to gain a broad understanding of key facets of international law, while also getting an idea of how they apply in practice in various real-world situations that my classmates deal with professionally.

How do you manage to balance your professional responsibilities with the demands of online classes?

Not very well so far if I’m honest . . . I aim to do a little each day, and the goal is to take some more time on weekends to review classes and prepare for upcoming ones, and complete assessments. I do need to improve in this regard, so I am trying to find a better study rhythm. While classes take place around lunchtime for me, it is not always easy to fully participate in them live due to work or other commitments. So it is very helpful that the Geneva Academy promptly uploads a recording and an automated transcript following each class, and these are invaluable for review purposes as well. We have also benefited from some very helpful methodology sessions and tutorials led by the brilliant teaching assistants on the programme. These have been filled with practical advice and tips on how to approach studies and exams. I just need to apply them!

How do you foresee the Executive Master contributing to your career advancement, especially in acquiring additional responsibilities or moving your career forward?

My main motivation for joining the programme is simply because I want to keep learning about areas of interest and the Executive Master ticks both professional and academic boxes for me in this regard. I aspire to be able to apply the learning gained to conduct critical analysis of the different branches of international law applicable in situations of armed conflict and the interplay between them.

I am very much interested in and open to the possibility of doing work that is more directly aligned with the content of the Executive Master, either in a professional or voluntary capacity. For the moment, though, I just hope to complete this uphill learning journey, and see what it brings once I (fingers crossed) reach the end.

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