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ENGAGE Fellowship: The Hague Academy of International Law

March 25, 2024

ENGAGE Fellowships support law students seeking to take part in internationally focused research projects, conferences, or fact-finding missions under the guidance of Penn Carey Law faculty (professors, lecturers, or adjuncts).

by Paul-Angelo dell’Isola L’24

As I bade farewell to the Netherlands in January after attending the Winter Course of The Hague Academy of International Law, a three-week-long program that gives students and practitioners an opportunity to learn from the most renowned international law scholars and diplomats, I carried with me a newfound appreciation for the role that international law can play in enabling global politics, calling out unjustified violence, and upholding the rights of individuals and peoples. My winter break experience solidified my understanding of various areas of international law, sparked new friendships, and strengthened my commitment to pursue a career in handling international law disputes.

The Peace Palace at dawn The Peace Palace at dawnLocated in The Hague, in the Peace Palace of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), The Hague Academy opened its doors in 1923 and has since brought students and practitioners together for lectures and seminars every summer (and, since 2019, every winter as well). Over the years, these lectures have been gathered in the famous Collected Courses book series, which ranks among the most important encyclopedic publications on public and private international law.

I first came across the Winter Course program as a 2L, as I was exploring the idea of community interests in international law. My research brought me to one of my now-favorite books, From Bilateralism to Community Interest in International Law, which was published in the Collected Courses series after Judge Bruno Simma gave his famous lecture at the Academy on how international law had developed from simply regulating state-to-state relationships to protecting community interests.

After I had spent a 2L year at Penn Carey Law engaged in international law–focused coursework, I decided that I needed to expand my legal education with an in-depth study of international law and greater topical exposure. But with so much to do on campus, I was hesitant to commit to a full semester of study abroad. Encouraged by Professor William Burke-White, who had attended The Hague Academy himself after graduating from law school, I enrolled in the Winter Course with another friend from Penn Carey Law.

Upon my arrival in The Hague, I was immersed in a community of scholars and practitioners fully dedicated to the rule of international law. The city is home to many embassies, international institutions, and international courts, such as the ICJ, which is the judicial organ of the UN, as well as the International Criminal Court. The Hague Academy of International Law, at which the Winter Course took place, is adjacent to and communicates with the Peace Palace of the ICJ and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The program consisted of a general three-week-long course on the interface between public and private Paul-Angelo dell'Isola L'24 and Isabella Pazaryna L'24 Paul-Angelo dell’Isola L’24 and Isabella Pazaryna L’24international law, as well as several specialized week-long courses on treaty and customary law-making, energy law, counterterrorism law, the role of advisory opinions, and the settlement of disputes with international organizations. The courses were taught daily in lecture and seminar formats in both English and French (with one course given in Spanish, French, and English simultaneously!).

After attending morning classes, I would spend my afternoons going to seminars and talks given by practitioners and diplomats, visiting embassies, and touring The Hague and neighboring Dutch cities. I also spent time doing research on international biodiversity law, and I took advantage of the Peace Palace Library, which houses one of the most comprehensive collections of public international law publications in the world.

This immersive international law experience turned to be a highlight of my law school education. I was able to meet with judges and clerks from the ICJ, as well as diplomats and advocates pleading before the Court. These encounters offered a glimpse into the inner workings of the ICJ, which has recently been called on to rule on the most difficult issues in international law, from the responsibility of warring States in Ukraine and Gaza to the responsibility of States for greenhouse gas emissions.

On my last day of the program, as protesters were chanting outside of the gates of the Peace Palace, I watched the ICJ deliver its preliminary order in the case between South Africa and Israel. With so much violence and suffering weighing on us all this year, I felt energized by the promise that international law can provide clarity and charter a path to peace and justice.

I am grateful to Professor Burke-White for pointing me to this opportunity, and to the Penn Carey Law’s Office of International Affairs, whose generous financial support enabled me to attend the Winter Course through the ENGAGE Fellowship.