International Law, Conflict, and Hope: Navigating My LL.M. in a World on Fire

by | Jul 9, 2024 | International Law | 0 comments

Reflecting on her LL.M. journey in Geneva, Mariam Hiba Malik, a student from Kenya who received a full fee waiver for the LL.M. in International Law programme, grapples with the evolving nature of international law and its critical role in global crises. This experience has provided her with essential knowledge and a critical perspective on the complexities of international law and its ties to systemic oppression.

Reflecting on my LL.M. journey from my little bubble in Geneva, I find myself grappling with mixed emotions. This reflection comes at a time when international law is in a state of flux, its legitimacy questioned, and its role in the world’s crises more pivotal than ever. As someone who hasn’t written anything non-legal since early undergrad, starting this reflection was daunting. But perhaps we can begin here. International law, as it stands, is structurally rooted in oppression. As lawyers, we must constantly question what we are doing within this system and how we will use it to help make the world a better place. Well, at least that’s what I’m trying to do. I came into this programme knowing that I wanted to make a difference– however small – to use the law as a tool to alleviate suffering. And the only tool that we currently have is, in many ways, a double-edged sword that can actually further entrench systemic inequalities. Knowing this, do we want to dismantle this system entirely, and is this even possible? Questioning this system is naturally imperative because international law is the only system we have. Understanding its pitfalls is crucial not just to improve upon them but to learn to navigate them effectively, with the ultimate goal of justice. I say this in the context of an ongoing genocide, multiple civil wars and the worst forms of human degradation.

This LL.M. programme provided me with the language and critical foundational knowledge of public international law that helps me to raise important questions to help change– or, more realistically– work within and around this flawed system. Without this foundation, I would not be able to do this effectively. From our core classes on who is a participant in international law to the intricate workings of international institutions, I found myself fully immersed in the heart of public international law. Each class gradually solidified a robust foundation of the core of public international law, which made me hungry for even more. How was this applicable to asylum seekers? What about climate change? What about the laws of war– as relevant as they are today amid genocides and civil wars and in people’s fights for self-determination and national liberation? Each session was framed by our phenomenal professors through the lens of current political turmoil. While all this was intellectually stimulating, they were also sobering reminders of the human suffering that underpins my studies. I kept asking myself, how am I going to use this knowledge to help those in Palestine, Kashmir, Congo, Sudan and every other place in which people are suffering?

Amidst this academic rigour, it was tough not to be disillusioned. Witnessing the UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine present her report “Anatomy of a Genocide” at the Human Rights Council was a pivotal moment for me, laying bare the ongoing destruction of the Palestinian people. I again asked myself, what can I do about this? Being able to engage in discussions with professors on what International Law looks like after Gaza and attending incredible discussions with UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights to food, adequate housing, and water allowed me to ponder over what is at stake for humanity and the rules-based global order in the war in Gaza. Every event I was engaged in and every class allowed me to critique international law as it stands and contemplate international law as I aspire it to be.

Simultaneously, having a front-row seat to the fascinating mechanics of law creation at the International Law Commission provided a further unique perspective to my perpetual rumination. The blend of theory and practice by witnessing the codification and progressive development of international law and observing the drafting of articles that might one day shape international responses to crises was truly exhilarating. Every article drafted has the potential to impact lives, shape policies, and redefine boundaries. Working on regional human rights issues in Asia with the Asia Justice Coalition further complemented this, underscoring the interconnectedness of our struggles across borders and cultures, reminding me that our freedoms are deeply intertwined.

While grappling with this, I would be remiss not to mention the immense solace I have found within certain communities in Geneva. Weekly pro-Palestine solidarity protests, standing shoulder to shoulder with others who are equally dedicated to fighting injustice, were not just about voicing dissent but about building a community united in purpose and action. The warmth of the Muslim community, especially during Ramadan– when I missed home so much that it was almost unbearable– brought me a sense of peace and belonging. And, of course, finding friends that I laugh with till it hurts and then keep laughing because 1) we’re all objectively hilarious and 2) we’re super co-dependent and don’t want to stop. I am extremely grateful to have found such love, warmth and support.

While I’m still reeling from the disillusionment and the constant whiplash of international law in flux, I feel my resolve to meaningfully contribute to using international law as a tool to help those who are suffering has been significantly bolstered. This academic journey has challenged me to envision how international law can address the world’s most pressing issues, even as we remain painfully aware of its limitations. It has reinforced my commitment to use whatever tools are available to advocate for justice and contribute to a more just global order. These experiences have seamlessly blended rigorous academics with practical application, crystallising my understanding of how the law can be wielded to champion justice and provide tangible support to those in dire need. I am emboldened to confront systemic flaws head-on, leveraging every legal tool at my disposal to advocate for meaningful change and uphold the principles of human dignity and justice. My understanding of the interconnectedness of struggles against oppression, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, Sudan, or Congo, has also deepened. Such solidarity is a powerful reminder that even in the face of overwhelming challenges, collective action can pave the way for change. Their resistance is our resistance. Their struggle for dignity, freedom, and independence is our struggle. Their cause is our cause. And this LL.M. program has given me the tools I need to help fight for it.

By Mariam Hiba Malik, LL.M. in International Law student

More information about the programme on executive.graduateinstitute.ch/llm

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