MANFRED LACHS, JUDGE
Peace Palace, Carnegieplein 2, 2517 KJ The Hague, Netherlands
The International Court of Justice pays tribute to Judge Manfred Lachs (Poland), former President of the Court
THE HAGUE, 4 April 2014. On Wednesday 2 April, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) unveiled a bust of Manfred Lachs, former Member (1967-1993) and former President (1973-1976) of the Court, at the Peace Palace in The Hague where the Court has its seat.
The bust was presented to the principal judicial organ of the United Nations by Poland to mark the centenary of Mr. Lachs’ birth on 21 April 1914. The unveiling of the bust was followed by a seminar on his life and work, which concluded with the screening of excerpts from a documentary on the same subject.
The event, which was attended by some 60 guests, including ambassadors, professors of international law and people who had known the eminent Polish jurist, was organized jointly by the Court and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in the Netherlands.
In his opening speech, the President of the Court, H.E. Mr. Peter Tomka, said that Manfred Lachs “was one of the most notable and influential international lawyers of the second half of the 20th century . . . [and] played a pioneering role in the development of international law for what was then a new field, the activities of States in outer space”. Mr. Tomka recalled that “at the age of 52, in 1966, [Lachs] was elected to the International Court of Justice . . . Subsequently, [he] was twice re-elected, on both occasions in the first ballot, in 1975 . . . and then in 1984.”
Judge Tomka went on to note that “Lachs was an influential Judge on the Bench; during his almost 26 years in the Court, [he] participated in 29 cases and 8 advisory proceedings”. He added that “Manfred Lachs, as President, not only skilfully led the Court in deciding several important cases during his Presidency, but also discussed with the Dutch authorities the conditions for the Court’s work in The Hague”.
H.E. Mr. Artur Nowak-Far, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, said that it seemed “that it was the desire to make the world a fairer place that drove Judge Lachs’ professional and life mission”. Mr. Nowak-Far explained that “[w]hen [Lachs] became the president of the ICJ the world and international law were going through a critical period”, adding that “[d]ecolonisation brought about a change of the ICJ’s approach to international law. Judge Lachs was an advocate of opening up to legal systems from outside Europe and North America. He believed that the ICJ should represent legal systems from different parts of the world, while international law had a special role to play: that of preserving civilisation.”
H.E. Mr. Jan Borkowski, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Netherlands, recounted Manfred Lachs’ “extraordinary life” and the different stages of his career, pointing out in particular Lachs’ faith in multilateral diplomacy and his major contribution to the work of the United Nations General Assembly from 1947 to 1966, especially within the Sixth Committee.
Ambassador Borkowski expressed the hope that “the bust of Professor Manfred Lachs, along with the bust of yet another exceptional Polish Judge of the International Court of Justice, namely Professor Bohdan Winiarski, will symbolize Poland’s unwavering commitment to international justice”.
H.E. Judge Mohamed Bennouna, Member of the Court, in turn pointed out that “besides his outstanding abilities as a practitioner and judge at this Court . . . Manfred Lachs taught international law with the passion that is characteristic of those who lovingly devote themselves to transmitting knowledge to the younger generations and developing their analytical skills”.
Judge Bennouna remarked that he “shares the late Manfred Lachs’ view on the need for an interdisciplinary approach to international law, one capable of integrating social realities, in much the same way as the great pioneers Charles de Visscher, Philippe Jessup, Taslim O. Elias or Mohammed Bedjaoui did”. Moreover, he added: “the advice which [Manfred Lachs] gave to teachers and thinkers in international law is still relevant today, particularly when he urges them to be armed with imagination and reason, while relying on true social humanism”.
H.E. Mr. Philippe Couvreur, Registrar of the Court, recalled Judge Lachs’ efforts “to take the Court out of the relative isolation to which it was subject at the end of the 1960s” and to defend “its special status among the organs of the United Nations”.
The Registrar also evoked the principles which inspired Manfred Lachs during the revision of the Rules of Court in the 1970s, of which he was one of the main architects, and Judge Lachs’ concern “to make the Court’s functioning and procedure more compatible with the needs and realities of its time”, as well as with the requirements of its universal character. Mr. Couvreur concluded by saying that “Manfred Lachs managed, as few others have, to combine a knowledge of the most fundamental issues of international law with an awareness of the practical challenges of international life, leaving us with an invaluable legacy of teachings”.
The original language version of the texts of the speeches given at the seminar are appended to this press release.
Photos of the event are available on the Court’s website under the heading “Press Room / Multimedia” (they appear at the bottom of the page).
Photos of Judge Lachs from the Court’s archives are available from the Court’s Registry. Requests should be sent by e-mail to the Information Department.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established by the United Nations Charter in June 1945 and began its activities in April 1946. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York. The Court has a twofold role: first, to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States (its judgments have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned); and, second, to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by duly authorized United Nations organs and agencies of the system. The Court is composed of 15 judges elected for a nine-year term by the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations. Independent of the United Nations Secretariat, it is assisted by a Registry, its own international secretariat, whose activities are both judicial and diplomatic, as well as administrative. The official languages of the Court are French and English. Also known as the “World Court”, it is the only court of a universal character with general jurisdiction.
The ICJ, a court open only to States for contentious proceedings, and to certain organs and institutions of the United Nations system for advisory proceedings, should not be confused with the other mostly criminal judicial institutions based in The Hague and adjacent areas, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY, an ad hoc court created by the Security Council), the International Criminal Court (ICC, the first permanent international criminal court, established by treaty, which does not belong to the United Nations system), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL, an independent judicial body composed of Lebanese and international judges, which is not a United Nations tribunal and does not form part of the Lebanese judicial system), or the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA, an independent institution which assists in the establishment of arbitral tribunals and facilitates their work, in accordance with the Hague Convention of 1899).
Opening speech by H.E. Mr. Peter Tomka at the seminar on the life and work of Manfred Lachs
We meet here today to commemorate the centenary of a great Polish lawyer, diplomat, scholar and teacher, former judge and President of this Court, the International Court of Justice, Manfred Lachs.
He was one of the most notable and influential international lawyers of the second half of the twentieth century. He was born in Stanislawów (Stanislaw) in eastern Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on 21April1914. In late 1918 it became part of the newly re-established independent Poland. After the outbreak of WWII it became part of the Soviet Union and is now part of the Ukraine, known under the name Ivano-Frankivs’k. He studied law at the University of Kraków where he received not only his LLM but also, in 1937, the degree of Doctor iuris. He pursued his legal education in Vienna, in France, where he received a doctorate from the University of Nancy in 1939, and in London. He was there in England when Poland was attacked by Germany and the war started. He luckily escaped the tragic fate of his family who became victims of the holocaust.
War crimes was the subject of his first book published in 1945. He was one of the delegates of the Polish government–in–exile to the United Nations War Crimes Commission that had been meeting in London between 1944 and 1946. He also took active part in the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, having been attached to the prosecutor’s office. There he participated in the drafting of the indictments regarding Nazi criminal acts in Poland. He also advised the Polish delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.
For some 20 years he served in the Polish Foreign Ministry, first as Director of the Legal and Treaties Department (1947-1960) and then as Legal Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (1960-1966). He represented Poland in numerous international conferences and in 20 sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Sixth (Legal) Committee. He was a popular, highly-respected and influential figure in that body. No other person has served as Chairman of the Sixth Committee for three sessions. Manfred Lachs was given that honour and elected to chair the United Nations General Assembly Legal Committee in 1949, 1951 and 1955, having also served as its Vice-Chairman in 1952.
He played a pioneering role in the development of international law for what was then a new field, the activities of States in outer space. The First Sputnik was launched to orbit the earth in 1957, and Jurij Gagarin flew into outer space in 1961. Manfred Lachs chaired between 1962-1966 the newly established Legal Sub-Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. He was a skilful negotiator and effective chairman, as demonstrated by the fact that the General Assembly adopted, first, in 1963 the Declaration, and then in December 1966, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.
In 1961, he was elected to the International Law Commission and actively participated in its work between 1962 and 1966 when the Commission finalized its draft articles on the Law of Treaties. He not only actively contributed to that outstanding project but also played a critical role in outlining the future work of the Commission on the issues relating to Succession of States, having served as Chairman of its Sub-Committee for that topic.
Manfred Lachs, while being very active in diplomatic and international legal practice, pursued in parallel his academic interests and vocation. He gave lectures as a Professor at the Academy of Political Sciences in Warsaw and from 1952 as a Professor of International Law at the University of Warsaw. Between 1961 and 1966 he also served as Director of the Institute of Legal Sciences in the Polish Academy.
Very few international lawyers and academics have been given the honour of giving lectures at the Hague Academy of International Law on four occasions. Manfred Lachs was one of those few. In 1957, he gave lectures, in French, on “Le développement et les fonctions des traités multilatéraux”, which were published in the well-known Recueils. A monograph, based on these lectures, was published a year later in Polish, and later in Russian, Hungarian and Spanish translations. In 1964, he was invited to lecture at the Academy again, then on a highly topical issue, the International Law of Outer Space. Twelve years later, in 1976, and already as a Judge of the Court, he gave lectures on “Teachings and Teaching of International Law”. These lectures provided a basis for a book entitled “The Teacher in International Law”, published in 1982 and for which he received the Award of the American Society of International Law. Finally, in 1980 he gave a general course under the title “The Development and General Trends of International Law in Our Time”.
Manfred Lachs had been for many years (in fact for a quarter of a century) a Member of the Curatorium of the Hague Academy, later, from 1977, serving as its Vice-President.
At the age of 52, in 1966, he was elected to the International Court of Justice. This was not an easy election. It was held shortly after the Court’s Judgment in the South-West Africa cases, a decision which elicited a lot of disappointment and criticism within the United Nations. Although Manfred Lachs’ predecessor on the Bench, another Polish judge, named Winiarski, was among those seven Judges who with the casting vote of President Percy Spender of Australia dismissed the case for lack of standing on the part of the Applicants, Liberia and Ethiopia, Lachs was luckier in the election than the Australian candidate, another well-known figure in the United Nations corridors, Sir Kenneth Bailey. Lachs was elected in the first ballot, having received 103 votes out of 119 cast in the General Assembly and 14 out of 15 in the Security Council. Bailey failed to be elected after 23 rounds of voting in the Security Council and 11 in the General Assembly. Subsequently, Lachs was twice re-elected, on both occasions in the first ballot, in 1975 with 102 votes out of 140 in the General Assembly and 13 votes out of 15 in the Security Council and then in 1984 with 99 votes out of 159 in the General Assembly and 13 out of 15 in the Security Council.
As a newly elected judge, Lachs entered a divided Court. The vote was split in the 1966 South-West Africa cases, when seven judges dismissed the case, an outcome that many of those judges had wanted, but failed to achieve in 1962, when the Court by eight votes to seven upheld its jurisdiction in the case. That division affected the election of the President in 1967. For some two months, between 6 February, when the term of office of the previous President expired (and he retired) and early April, the Court failed to elect a new President. In the end, a compromise candidate appeared in the judge from Peru (and former President of that country), José Bustamante y Rivero. Lachs was deeply concerned about the standing of the Court as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. He was one of those who strived to establish closer relations with, and better awareness of the Court’s work by, the United Nations organs sitting in New York, in particular the General Assembly. It was on the initiative of Lachs and several of his colleagues that the Court decided to submit regularly a report to the United Nations General Assembly on its activities.
In 1973 he was elected by his peers as President of the Court, while the Court was still experiencing the post South-West Africa divisions. The candidate favoured by the then conservative minority bore with difficulty the election of Lachs, younger not only in terms of age (then 58), but also in terms of seniority, to the Presidency of the Court. This affected their relationship. Even 10 years later, the other candidate, already for some six years in retirement, wrote with some bitterness in an article on 40 years of the Court, that “the best were excluded”.
Manfred Lachs, as President, not only skilfully led the Court in deciding several important cases during his Presidency, but also discussed with the Dutch authorities the conditions for the Court’s work in The Hague. It may be of interest to note how his talks were recalled by the late Pieter Kooijmans, the then 40-year old State Secretary in the Foreign Office, later Professor of International Law at Leiden University, Foreign Minister, and ultimately himself a judge of this Court. Let me quote him from his reminiscences:
“The World Court was considering the possibility of moving out of The Hague as a number of its members were dissatisfied with the conditions under which they had to carry out their function; relations between the Court and the host-government had been strained for some years and the possible transfer of the Court’s seat had been placed on the agenda of the General Assembly. Those who know Manfred Lachs also know that strained relations were not much to his liking. But and that is even more important he was of the opinion that moving the Court from its long-established base would ultimately damage the Court. It should not be forgotten that the Court had barely recovered from the profound loss of esteem it had suffered as the result of its decision in the South-West Africa case of July 18, 1966. This esteem had been regained to a certain extent by the famous obiter dictum in the Barcelona Traction case on obligations erga omnes and by the advisory opinion on Namibia but, nevertheless, the Court’s reputation was still vulnerable. Moving the Court away from The Hague could entail various risks for the Court, which he all discussed with me. If there was one thing which mattered in this world for Manfred Lachs, professionally speaking, it was the Court and at that moment he was President of that Court and that gave an extra dimension to his concern.
Together with the then Foreign Minister we were able to solve all problems and the Court stayed at The Hague. But as the present Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, I wish to say that it is to a great extent due to Manfred Lachs that these problems could be solved and that the item of the seat of the World Court could be removed from the General Assembly’s agenda. His straightforwardness, his openness, his integrity and his fairness were of great help. Although he loved The Hague and The Netherlands, it was not his love for this country but his deep love for the Court which prompted him to try to keep the Court in The Hague.”
During his Presidency, the Court dealt with several cases, some of them with significant implications. Particularly delicate were two cases brought by Australia and New Zealand respectively, against France in connection with French nuclear tests in the Pacific. To some relief, perhaps, for a good number of Members of the Court, in the end it was not necessary to rule on the applications, the cases having become moot (or without any object) following the issuance of a communiqué by the Office of the French President on 8 June 1974 stating that “in view of the stage reached in carrying out the French nuclear defence program France will be in a position to pass on to the stage of underground explosions as soon as the series of tests planned for this summer is completed”.
The other two judgments which Lachs signed as the Court’s President were the Judgments in the Fisheries jurisdiction cases between the United Kingdom and Germany, respectively as the Applicants and Iceland (as the non-appearing) Respondent.
The Judgments were delivered in the period when the international law of the sea was going through a process of dynamic evolution, in particular within the framework of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which culminated in the adoption of the so-called new constitution for the ocean, the UNCLOS. That Convention firmly established new concepts, in particular the exclusive economic zone. In view of that development, the two Judgments are now rather part of legal history than a frequently invoked jurisprudence.
Under his Presidency, the Court delivered two advisory opinions. The first one, of a rather “technical nature” on the Application for Review of Judgment No. 158 of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal case (Fasla case), the second one on a much more important matter, on Western Sahara.
Lachs was an influential judge on the Bench; during his almost 26 years in the Court, having participated in 29 cases and eight advisory proceedings, he dissented only twice, the first time being in his first case, the North Sea Continental Shelf joined cases, where he advocated equidistance as a guiding principle for maritime delimitations. Subsequent developments, in particular the jurisprudence of this Court in the last two decades, has gone in that direction. The other dissent he attached to an advisory opinion concerning the Application for Review of Judgment No. 273 of the UNAT (Mortished case). As his colleague on the Bench at that time, Judge Schwebel, wrote in a tribute to Manfred Lachs, “[h]is opinion opposing the according of repatriation grants to members of the United Nations Secretariat who never repatriated themselves remains persuasive”.
I met Manfred Lachs only briefly on two occasions: in 1986 in Salzburg at a Seminar for young diplomats on international co-operation and peaceful uses of outer-space and in September 1990 in The Hague at a Conference organized by the Academy of International Law, on the peaceful settlement of disputes in Europe.
Unfortunately, I cannot claim that I knew him personally well. But let me conclude with a quote from his colleague on the Bench for some 12 years, Sir Robert Jennings, who was the Court’s President when Manfred Lachs passed away:
“Being our senior Judge, his interventions were usually made late, when everything seemed to have been said. Yet, time after time, in a short, economical, even terse intervention, he would redefine the problem in a way that enabled us all to see it in a new and clearer light. . . .
Lachs was a wonderful friend and colleague. A private and even rather shy man, he nevertheless had great presence: always courteous, with perfect manners, always well and correctly dressed with just a touch of the dashing about it; . . . [with] the glint of his eye when he sighted some intellectual problem to be wrestled with. Many recollect his generous hospitality, his supportive wisdom unfailingly offered, his infectious cheerfulness and good humour; his help to those in trouble; and his frequent almost casual acts of generosity and kindness with which he enriched the lives of so many . . . who had the good fortune to know him.”