2014 ESIL Book Prize

ESIL Book Prize 2014

The jury (Professors Philip Alston, Armin von Bogdandy and Hélène Ruiz Fabri) proposed that the ESIL Prize be awarded to two books which, although very different, are of equal excellence. The prizes were awarded during the Gala Dinner at the ESIL 10th Anniversary Conference in Vienna in September 2014.

Sandesh Sivakumaran, The Law of Non-International Armed Conflict, OUP 2012. 

The jury considers this book as a truly major piece of scholarship, on a topic of undoubted importance, and which will stand as the key reference work on the topic for a considerable time to come.
Its scope is too vast to seek to summarize its arguments here.  It must suffice to draw attention to some of its major strengths.  The focus on this topic is extraordinarily timely in addressing perhaps the most important issue to have emerged in the field of international humanitarian law over the past two decades.  Because of the very recent nature of much of the practice, the author is dealing with a body of law that remains in a state of flux.  In order to bring clarity to a complex set of issues, the author needs to display a mastery of several different bodies of law and this is one of the many impressive characteristics of the volume.  Because the practice, both on the part of states and of non-state armed groups is disparate, the author has already performed a major achievement by documenting and carefully analyzing the practice and the significance to be attributed to it.
In addition to undertaking a very careful review of large areas of existing but contested doctrine, the author gives balanced consideration to a number of controversial propositions, and makes nuanced and compelling arguments in favour of the need for significant evolution in the law governing NIACs. Even those disagreeing with the thrust of Sivakumaran’s analysis can acknowledge that the book offers a rich lode of high-level scholarship. This is also an immensely useful book for practitioners.

Ingo Venzke, How Interpretation Makes International Law. On Semantic Change and Normative Twists, OUP 2012.

 Interpretation attracts more and more attention and this book constitutes a very interesting step in the necessary reflection.
The first major strength of this book is the use of a strong theoritical framework. Venzke’s book shows not just a firm grasp of theory, but it is actually very theoretically sophisticated and reflects cutting edge research. Venzke borrows lines of thinking from various scholars about language and discourse (such as Wittgenstein, Fish, Koselleck or Habermas) but at the same time, he never loses  track of the fact that his analysis is primarily a legal one.
The second major strength of Venzke’s book is the fact that it contains strong, in-depth and well-informed studies of two particular fields which illustrates two different approaches to interpretation. One is refugee law, and especially the challenge of defining who is a refugee, where interpretation derives from the works of institutional organs (UNHCR). The second is WTO law and the chosen example is the interpretation of exceptions by the WTO judge, when interpretation derives from a judicial process. In both cases, by relating the preferred interpretations to the goals pursued by the interpreters, the author uncovers the political dimension of interpretation as well as the need for legitimacy which makes it necessary to encapsulate it in a legal reasoning supposed to lead interpretation.
The third major strength of Venzke’s book is a fascinating chapter on creative interpretations where the author explores various explanatory theories and points out, at the end of his analysis, the crucial role of actors ‘acting at the borders between levels of governance’.
Although various aspects of the analysis could be the subject of vigorous debate, it is a challenging and convincing work that demonstrates very strong research skills, considerable depth of thinking and an extensive knowledge of international law. A true doctrinal work.