2003 International Environmental Law Award – Louis B. Sohn

In recognition of the importance and richness of international environmental law, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has established an Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Development of International Environmental Law. The award will be given annually.

The first recipient of the award is Professor Louis B. Sohn, for his extraordinary accomplishments in international environmental law as a teacher, practitioner, public servant, and visionary in the area of international law.

The ceremony was held at at George Washington University, Washington, DC, on January 17, 2003.

Professor Sohn was the Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard University for thirty-five years; and he subsequently taught at the University of Georgia and George Washington University law school, where he still does research. In addition to having authored many germinal publications about international environmental law, Professor Sohn was an influential participant in the 1945 San Francisco Conference drafting the United Nations Charter (particularly regarding the human rights aspects) and the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. He authored the environmental sections of the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States. Professor Sohn has held leadership positions in many organizations, including being President of the American Society of International Law and Chair of the Section of International Law and Practice of the American Bar Association.

Remarks by Edith Brown Weiss, Francis Cabell Brown Professor of International Law, Georgetown University Law Center:

The modest and humble man of Louis Sohn is one of the world’s greatest scholars of international law. He has been an architect of much of modern international law. He helped draft the United Nations Charter in San Francisco. He helped define international human rights law. He shaped the Law of the Sea Convention and created the Law of the Sea Tribunal. He helped draft the United Nations Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment. He served as rapporteur for the Restatement on Foreign Relations Law Third articles on environment. He was important establishing the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and in designing disarmament agreements. For more than half a century, this modest man, Professor Sohn, has been a pre-eminent international legal scholar and at the same time an advisor to governments, intergovernmental organizations and a multitude of students on the rules of international law.

Professor Sohn began his academic career in the United States at Harvard Law School, where he was appointed to the faculty in 1946 and became the Bemis Professor of International Law in 1961. In 1981, the late Dean Rusk persuaded him to go to the University of Georgia and become the first holder of the Woodruff Chair in International Law. In 1991, he joined the U.S. Institute of Peace and then was persuaded to join the George Washington University Law Faculty. Throughout his scholarly career, he has always found time for public serve: as a Counselor on International Law at the Department of Statement from 1970-1971; as US delegate to the Law of the Sea Convention, 1974-1982; as US counsel in two cases before the International Court of Justice; as President of the American Society of International law from 1988 – 1990; and as Chairman of the Section of International Law and Practice of the American Bar Association from 1992-1993.

It is most fitting that we honor Professor Sohn today for his contributions to international environmental law. He was present at the founding of modern international environmental law in Stockholm, Sweden thirty years ago. His article in the Harvard Journal of International Law on the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment provides a uniquely insightful and painstakingly thorough analysis of the principles. It is a classic piece. As rapporteur for the Restatement on Foreign Relations Law’s treatment of international environmental law, he left an indelible mark on the formulation of the rules in the field. What student has not studied Section 601 and 602 of the Restatement and the commentary? Or analyzed in detail the reformulated Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration in Section 601? What student has not studied Sections 603 and 604 of the Restatement on marine pollution and emergencies. These sections still stand as the authoritative effort to set forth rules of international environmental law.

Louis Sohn has also helped define oceans law. He served as U.S. deputy representative at the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea. In these negotiations, Louie insisted that countries consider dispute settlement and proposed a Law of the Sea Tribunal. He drafted a text for the Law of the Sea Tribunal to be sure countries considered the idea. Later, he wrote an influential piece addressing the question of whether the Law of the Sea provisions could be considered customary international law. Law students for years have studied his handiwork on environmental and oceans issues. He has similarly contributed to the field of human rights. In one of his later pieces, he raised the provocative question of whether there could be generations of rights to encompass new concerns such as environment.

More than thirty years ago, Professor Sohn recognized that environment was an important subject in international law. And he said so. He set forth basic principles that guide us today. He looked for creative ways to address environmental issues. Through his writings and his work, Louis Sohn has made a difference in how countries and their citizens address international environmental issues.

The Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment refers to “the human environment.” It’s important to focus on the “human” element. Professor Sohn, through his personal relations with people worldwide, has enriched the human environment. When I first met Professor Sohn, I was one of less than 25 women students at Harvard Law School. Louie treated everyone, no matter who they were or where they came from, with dignity and respect. I am forever grateful and proud that I could serve as one of his research assistants. He has been a mentor to me over many years, as he has been a mentor to many others, from diverse countries.

Louis has many qualities which we need today. He is always fair and impartial. He is always detailed, precise and accurate. (And he proofreads!) He is always extraordinarily well-informed and well-versed in the historical aspects of almost any issue in international law. He is always insightful. And he is always extremely generous in sharing his knowledge with friends, other colleagues, and students.

We salute you, Louis, for all of your wonderful qualities. Today, we also take great pride in honoring you for your very special contribution as one of the founders and architects of international environmental law. As a scholar, a teacher, an advisor to governments, and a public servant, you have created an invaluable legacy.