Peace and security
We all want world peace, but what is it exactly? What do you need to do to achieve peace? Nico Schrijver researches these questions and issues advice.More about Peace and security
Ask people ‘If you had one wish, what would it be?’, and the majority will answer ‘world peace’. But how do you achieve world peace? And what is the role of international law? These are the questions Professor Nico Schrijver tries to answer.
Read more about the research of Nico Schrijver into how to achieve peace and security, about research and teaching on this topic at Leiden University and about their impact on society.
Who owns a particular piece of land or a rock out at sea? Can and should the international community intervene in a conflict in a country such as Syria? Professor of International Law Nico Schrijver researches such issues and the evolution of international law. He helps answer the question of how countries, with all their different interests, cultures and histories, can agree to the rules that everyone must obey. Schrijver also advises on peaceful conflict resolution and how to improve respect for human rights.
Eradicating inequality, violence and poverty are goals that the world has spent a long time trying to achieve, but countries do not by any means always agree on how to interpret these goals (for example, what our human rights are) or how to achieve them. How has international law evolved over the years? How can it help make a safer and more sustainable world? Nico Schrijver researches these questions, taking a particular interest in the past, present and future role of the United Nations.
Schrijver is Academic Director of the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, and he and his colleagues at the centre conduct research and lecture on international law. The centre maintains close links with various leading institutes in the field of international jurisprudence, such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which mediates in international disputes and which counts Schrijver among its members.
Schrijver is also much in demand as an academic who applies his knowledge in various ways, both in the Netherlands and abroad. He sits on different UN advisory boards in the field of human rights and international law, is a member of the Senate of the Dutch Parliament (PvdA Party) and is chair of the Law Committee of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). He also sat on the controversial Davids Committee, which investigated the decision of the Dutch government to offer political support to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
We all want world peace, but what is it exactly? What do you need to do to achieve peace? Nico Schrijver researches these questions and issues advice.More about Peace and security
As a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Nico Schrijver helps assess the reports states submit to the UN on human rights in their country.More about Human rights
The original aim of the United Nations was to bring about peace and security in the world. ‘The UN has never managed to organise itself in such a way to achieve this goal,’ says Schrijver. How should the UN be organised then?More about The UN and international law
Natural resources such as oil and gas have always been a source of conflict. Which state owns these resources? Nico Schrijver researches the development of international law in this area.More about Natural resources
We all want world peace, but what is it exactly? What do you need to do to achieve peace? Nico Schrijver researches these questions and issues advice.
‘Peace is much more than the absence of violence and war. That is negative peace, however important it might be. You also need to look at positive peace: what are the causes of war and the most important conditions for creating and maintaining peace? One of the first things to emerge is respect for human rights. If you respect human rights, your society is more likely to be peaceful, which will enable you to start developing a constitutional state and in the long run a democracy. A second condition of peace is banishing poverty. I look at how law can help prevent or eradicate war, and at which deficiencies in the law prevent the eradication of war.’
In this context Schrijver researches the development of the principle of joint security in the world. ‘The principle gained tentative shape in the 20th century: first in the League of Nations and then in the United Nations, with as guiding principle the inclusion in article 2 (4) of the UN Charter of the prohibition of the use of force. Although it is a single sentence in the whole Charter, as far as I am concerned it is by far the most important provision in the Charter.’ Schrijver’s research on this provision culminated in two important publications in 2005. First, a very detailed paper on the history, text, interpretation and application of the prohibition of force, which was published in one of the most important commentaries on the UN Charter. Second, the bestselling book The Security Council and the Use of Force. Theory and Reality, which Schrijver co-edited with Niels Blokker. He also closely follows the UN Security Council and has been invited to speak as an expert in a closed Council session on sanctions.
Schrijver also regularly writes for the press on current affairs relating to force and security, for example, the Arab Spring, the Iraq issue and the Iranian nuclear threat. He and his colleague Larissa van den Herik recently led the major research project Counterterrorism and International Law.
As a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Nico Schrijver helps assess the reports that states submit to the UN on human rights in their country.
‘Twenty-five years ago China, Malaysia and Burma told the West: ‘Your human rights are not our human rights’. They would not even dare think that now,’ says Schrijver. He sits on one of the UN human rights committees, which monitors member-state compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Committee comprises 18 independent international experts and meets twice a year in Geneva. Each UN member state reports once every five years to Geneva about the situation there and how it implements the Covenant.
The Committee considers the state’s report and issues its observations on behalf of the UN. ‘Wherever possible, these observations are formulated in positive and encouraging terms,’ says Schrijver.
‘For example, how can the UN help you with your plans to counteract people trafficking, give more girls access to primary education or train more female judges? We publish these observations. I have just worked on a report on the human-rights situation in Israel – a very tricky job. We tried to strike a balance in these observations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. That can be a real balancing act. I think that Israel will act upon it, that our observations will filter through to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Israel, for example. You have to compromise somewhat in your report, because you do want to bring about small changes in a country.’
This nuanced approach often works better than wagging your finger, Schrijver explains. ‘First, the UN only has few powers, so we cannot force a country to do anything. Second, it is better to create an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation, because that produces a better result in the end. This atmosphere of cooperation means that countries do not dare distance themselves.’
The original aim of the United Nations was to bring about peace and security in the world. ‘The UN has never managed to organise itself in such a way to achieve this goal,’ says Schrijver. How should the UN be organised to ensure that this goal is achieved? How do you ensure that countries reach agreements, and adopt and comply with this legislation at the national level? To answer these questions Schrijver conducts extensive research in the UN archives and draws from his rich experience as an adviser to the UN.
The first thing he is examining is the development of the UN since its establishment in 1945 and the results that it has achieved. There have been significant developments in recent years, says Schrijver. ‘Perhaps the most important change has been the adjustment of its goals: the UN principally wants to be an international organisation that renders justice at the global level. It has proceeded to formulate sub-goals based on this goal, such as peacekeeping, decolonisation, the sustainable development of countries and counterterrorism.’
‘If we look at the development of the global values and principles that form the basis of international law, much has also been achieved through gradual change and plenty of discussion,’ he says. ‘For example, all countries in the world now accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not just Western values but suggestions from Asia and Africa were included in this declaration and the ensuing treaties. Another example is the eradication of apartheid and the development of a global law of the sea. All activities that take place at sea (including fishing in, sailing on and flying over the sea) and all forms of power that states have in different parts of the sea have been documented, with certain parts being left for humanity as a whole. These include the high seas and the sea bed with its mineral deposits.’
With regard to UN reform that would help it achieve its goals, Schrijver believes not only that states should be represented in the organisation, but also that it should be made easier for social enterprises and the academic and business communities to get a foot in the door.
A further important change is the redistribution of seats in the UN Security Council. ‘The number of European members should not increase, but instead there should be more representatives from Africa, Asia and South America, areas which, apart from China, do not currently have a permanent seat. What would be even better would be if regional organisations such as the European Union and the African Union had a permanent seat at the table. Then you really would be dealing with the UN of the 21st century. The presidency could then rotate between representatives from the whole world and the authority of the UN Security Council would increase.’ Furthermore, he believes that the development of international law is not simply about strengthening the position of the UN and other international organisations. ‘Many people mainly see me as an advocate of internationalism, but that is a big misunderstanding,’ he says. ‘I actually think that the primary administrative layer, the national state, has most responsibility for the further development of a legal system that is based on the agreements in international law and general UN standards.’
Schrijver is currently working on a book on this topic, based on the ‘Lauterpacht Lectures’ (named after a famous professor of international law) that he gave in 2011 at the University of Cambridge.
Natural resources such as oil and gas have always been a source of conflict. Which state owns these resources? Nico Schrijver researches the development of international law in this area.
‘The ownership of natural resources has been a crucial problem from 1950 until today. It began in countries that were previously the colony of a Western nation,’ Schrijver explains. ‘Many “former rulers” tried to keep the natural resources from the former colony by drawing up what are known as unequal treaties. For example, they concluded mining contracts or oil concessions that sometimes ran for as long as 99 years. The international community finally recognised these treaties as greatly disadvantageous to the former colonies, and countries can now use international law to try to get out of these contracts.’ Schrijver was one of the first to write a book about this. He researched how the subject was broached in the UN, and how the permanent sovereignty of natural resources became an aspect of international law through treaties and UN resolutions.
The theme remains an important aspect of international jurisprudence. Who owns natural resources on islands or at sea? On dry land it is still a topical matter too. Natural resources can be a source of conflict in a country. ‘In states with a weak central government, such as the Horn of Africa and the immense Democratic Republic of Congo, you see warlords claiming ownership of forests, diamond fields and copper mines. International businesses, such as Western or Chinese companies, are sometimes involved. These internal conflicts have led to new international regulations: for example, that diamonds must be certified and that logging and mining must be monitored more closely.’
Schrijver sits on a committee that advises the UN on the recognition and enforcement of sovereignty over resources and the right to development. One of the aspects of this work is the phenomenon of ‘land grabbing’. Large economic powers such as China, Japan and Korea do not possess enough land and natural resources within their own borders and thus conclude contracts with countries such as Vietnam, Madagascar and Ethiopia. They pay the government to be able to use or exploit natural resources. The governments often invest the money they have earned in their own defence budgets.
Schrijver: ‘Land grabbing is a form of neocolonialism. It leads to dubious actions against the local population, which is generally chased away by the foreign investors. Non-governmental organisations and UN investigators themselves report on this to the UN.’ However, the arrival of foreign companies, from China for example, does not necessarily have negative consequences.
‘If the UN is to achieve its goals, institutional reform will be necessary’
Nico Schrijver lectures on various bachelor’s and master’s programmes, within and outside the Faculty of Law. ‘I like teaching,’ he says. ‘And lectures are very important. They allow students to put a face to a discipline. I, at least, really liked that during my own studies. The names of good lecturers stay with you for the rest of your life. Furthermore, teaching is important because people with a good education are the cement of society.’
Programmes in the area of international law and peace
Leiden University offers various outstanding programmes that could inspire you to help create a peaceful international community. You could study law or international law, but if you are more interested in understanding international institutes and diplomacy, the International Relations programme could be for you. If you want to learn about the causes of conflicts between countries, you might want to consider studying History.
Law : Law affects our everyday lives. Buying bread or topping up the call credit on your mobile phone are legal acts in themselves. The study of law is more than big legal cases; on the programme you also deal with everyday matters.
International Studies : Intrigued by the cause and effect of the Eurocrisis, the emergence of new economies or the Arab Spring? In the English-taught Bachelor’s programme in International Studies, you study the history, culture, politics and economy of a world region and learn the language that is spoken there.
History : To study history is to seek answers to questions from all periods and regions. Delve into the past of humanity. One minute you will consider the meaning of a brief line from a medieval ledger and the next you will try to figure out the impact of slavery on different societies.
University College : Leiden University’s international honours programme. All course units are taught in The Hague, the city of international peace and security.
Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology : Each person belongs to a society. What are the similarities and differences between societies in the world? Who determines the ‘rules’ of a society? How do individuals deal with these? These are the questions that you will try to answer if you choose to study Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology.
The media regularly ask Nico Schrijver to comment on current events in the world. He also writes columns and comments on the role of international jurisprudence in the promotion of peace and security. The right-hand column of the ‘Impact’ contains a selection of articles and videos on Nico Schrijver’s work.
Nico Schrijver provides legal advice to countries embroiled in disputes about territory and the power of disposal over natural resources. A current example is the dispute between Japan and Korea about a small group of islands in the Sea of Japan. Both countries claim sovereignty over the islands and Japan has threatened to bring the case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Schrijver provides legal advice to the Korean government. ‘In my opinion, South Korea has the better legal papers and could win the case.’
Nico Schrijver joined the Senate of the Dutch Parliament representing the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) in June 2011. He holds the portfolios of Foreign Affairs, Development Aid, Agriculture and Migration. His duties have included assessing legislation proposed by the Party for the Animals to ban ritual slaughter.
In 2009 Nico Schrijver sat on the Davids Committee, which examined the decision made by the Balkenende government to grant political support to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. One of the Committee’s conclusions was that there was not a sufficient mandate under international law for the invasion. The report led to a debate in the Dutch House of Representatives, in which Prime Minister Balkenende survived a vote of no confidence by the skin of his teeth.
Discover the world in Leiden. Leiden’s researchers collaborate with colleagues throughout the world, often from other adjacent disciplines. Nico Schrijver also works with eminent colleagues from different countries. The world map below shows a number of Nico Schrijver’s global contacts.