Thursday, February 18, 2010

IN THE NEWS: Koh and Bellinger on International Law in the U.S.

As Washington, DC gets back up and running after last week's severe snow storm, a large group of people (ok, ok, mostly lawyers) interested in international law gathered yesterday to hear Harold Koh, Legal Advisor to the State Department, and his predecessor, John Bellinger III, speak about the role of the Office of the Legal Advisor and the status of international law in the United States. Koh likened the Obama administration’s record over the past year to digging out from a snowstorm, noting that “[i]t takes a lot more time to dig out from a snowstorm than it does for the snow to fall.”

Last month marked the anniversary of President Obama’s signing three executive orders that were intended to signal a shift in U.S. foreign policy. They ordered (1) the closing of Guantanamo Bay; (2) the suspension of the C.I.A. interrogation program; and (3) the review of all U.S. government detention policies and legal positions. Although these executive orders were met with wide acclaim across the international community, the Obama administration continues to face difficulty implementing them.

Koh noted that implementing the executive orders and other foreign policy initiatives will take time. “We have been tasked with unwinding policies that we would not have implemented,” Koh said. When further questioned by Bellinger why the Obama administration had not acted swiftly in forging stronger ties with the International Court of Justice, Koh replied that addressing these issues would require an act by Congress.

Koh also addressed the need for the United States to ratify several treaties - including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Having been confirmed by 62 votes, Koh joked that he "knows how a treaty feels," as treaties require 67 votes to be ratified by the U.S. Senate.

To read further coverage of the event, click here. The event was broadcast by C-SPAN - to watch this interesting and entertaining discussion, click here.

Prepared with the assistance of International Justice Project Intern Daniel Cousineau.

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