A ‘missed opportunity’ at the UN

George W. Alexandrowicz, professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University, delivered the 2006 Annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture at Glendon on Feb. 6. In his lecture, titled “Developments in Global Governance”, Alexandrowicz explored the issues surrounding the Outcome Document on world security adopted by the United Nations in the fall of 2005.

Alexandrowicz was introduced by Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum, of Glendon’s International Studies Department, as a lifelong friend since childhood. Kirschbaum drew parallels between their formative experiences as post-war immigrants from Central Europe, sharing the same early educational paths and the same vocation as university professors.

In turn, Alexandrowicz paid tribute to Jean-Gabriel Castel, who attended the lecture.  Describing Castel as “a pioneer in the study of international law in Canada and a ‘gem’ among us”, Alexandrowicz declared it a great honour to be chosen to deliver this lecture. He also praised Glendon for recognizing the importance of studying international law, which was further demonstrated by the recent hiring into the International Studies Department of Professor Michael Barutciski, a jurist and a specialist in this area, and a co-host of this lecture.

Right: George Alexandrowicz, Glendon principal Kenneth McRoberts, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Jean-Gabriel Castel, Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum and Professor Michael Barutciski at the Castel Lecture at Glendon

As he discussed some of the major challenges confronting the UN today, Alexandrowicz outlined the steps leading up to the UN General Assembly’s Final Document on World Security, known as the Outcome Document, conceived to mark the UN’s 60th anniversary last fall. The document focused on world security, human rights and, in particular, the prevention of acts of catastrophic terrorism and chemical warfare. While the assembly agreed on the urgent need to address these problems, the discussions revealed a lack of will among world leaders to commit to meeting this need in concrete ways.

But Resolution 60/1 – as it eventually became known – on the subject of peace and security, “was a very watered-down document, a missed opportunity for dealing with these pressing world issues,” said Alexandrowicz. Of the numerous obstacles in the way of its success, he provided two examples. One was the impossibility of arriving at a comprehensive convention to criminalize terrorism, which would continue as long as an adequate definition of terrorism did not exist. The second example involved the right of individuals and groups to fight against oppression – currently determined case by case, depending on the players involved, and very much influenced by the world community’s view of the oppressed and the oppressors.

Alexandrowicz also examined the use of force, and the contexts in which it was deemed legitimate. Pointing to varying past responses from the UN Security Council, he added that while pre-emptive use of force might have prevented major human disasters in recent history, it was not clear in which situations pre-emptive force was considered legal and whether failure to act was a crime.

Although the UN’s Outcome Document strongly condemned all forms of terrorism and stressed the need to define it, it succeeded only in recommending the organizing of a high-level conference to discuss it. Further, the document did not deal with the issues of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, nor did it address what Alexandrowicz called today’s other major threat — potentially world-wide epidemics. “These threats are without borders and highly dangerous to the entire world. As a consequence, global governance has become much more of a necessity,” said Alexandrowicz. 

He concluded that “an opportunity was missed, when conditions were appropriate for clarifying current laws and making the world a safer place, we must now renew our efforts to revisit these processes. But although we missed this chance to take stock and reform [I think that] fundamentally the UN is an organization of great importance that still works.”

During the ensuing question period, Professor Castel expressed how he is taking a very pessimistic view of the future of the UN. “In my opinion [the UN] is on the road to obsolescence, because it is unable to reform itself to conform to current needs,” said Castel.

More About George W. Alexandrowicz

George W. Alexandrowicz holds degrees from the University of Toronto (LLB ‘64, MA ‘66) and from Harvard Law School. (LLM ‘67). He was admitted to the bar in 1966 and completed an internship at the UN in 1969. Alexandrowicz has lectured on international law at various universities around the world including the US, China and India. He was also involved in international law policy with the Canadian Ministry of the Environment and was a member of the Canadian, American, and Mexican Bar Associations’ Joint Committee on Dispute Settlement. Alexandrowicz has been teaching law at Queen’s University for 38 years.

More about Jean-Gabriel Castel and the Annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture

Jean-Gabriel Castel QC is a distinguished senior scholar and research professor emeritus at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, as well as a lecturer of international law at Glendon. He is an author, international arbitrator, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Castel was the recipient of the David W. Mundell Medal for Excellence in Legal Writing in 2004. One of the first foreign Fulbright scholars, he studied at Harvard Law School where he obtained a doctorate in law.

Castel has authored dozens of books and treatises in English and French, and over a hundred scholarly articles. He also served as editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Review for 27 years. Castel is a Member of the Royal Society, an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur.

Located at Glendon, the Annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture offers an opportunity to examine major legal issues of general concern. It was established in 2005 to honour this great legal mind, with Castel himself as the first lecturer on Feb. 9, 2005.

This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny