Keynote Speech

We are pleased to invite you to attend virtually a keynote speech entitled “Public interest litigation before international courts and tribunals: Past, present and future”, delivered by Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue (University of Geneva), as part of our project on the potential of public interest litigation in international law.

Keynote speech

Public interest litigation before international courts and tribunals: Past, present and future

Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue
University of Geneva

11th November 2021, 4.30-5.30pm (UK)

Join on Zoom (Meeting ID: 940 1840 6484; Password: 094510)

Keynote speaker:

Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue

Makane Moïse Mbengue is Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva and Director of the Department of International Law and International Organization. He is also an Affiliate Professor at Sciences Po Paris (School of Law). He holds a Ph.D. in Public International Law from the University of Geneva. Since 2017, he is the President of the African Society of International Law (AfSIL).

He has acted and acts as expert for the African Union, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) among others. He also acts as a Professor for courses in International Law organized by the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) and by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

Prof. Mbengue acts as counsel in disputes before international courts and tribunals (in particular, before the International Court of Justice and in investment cases) and as advisor for governments. He is involved in the negotiations of several International Investment Agreements in Africa.

He is the author of several publications in the field of international law.


Dr Yusra Suedi, LSE Fellow, LSE Law School

Yusra Suedi is a Fellow in Law at LSE Law School. She was awarded a doctorate in Public International Law from the University of Geneva in December 2020 (summa cum laude, with the highest distinction), for her manuscript entitled ‘The Individual in the Law and Practice of the International Court of Justice’. Prior to joining the LSE, Yusra taught a self-designed course in United Nations multilateral diplomacy at the University of Geneva for five years. In parallel to her academic engagements, she has worked for the United Nations Office at Geneva, the International Law Commission and the Institut Du Droit International. Yusra also served as a judicial clerk at the International Court of Justice and a Legal Officer at the International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal. She has published in The Law and Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, where her article was won second place for the Rosalyn Higgins Prize. She holds an LLM in Public International Law from the University of London (UCL and Queen Mary, jointly) and a Master of Laws from the University of Geneva. 

The workshop

International courts and tribunals play a pivotal role in the international legal order. They provide for a peaceful alternative for the settlement of disputes, and they interpret and uphold the law. However, the political and legal landscape has evolved drastically since their creation – especially in the last thirty years. One aspect of this evolution is the growing interest in using international courts in the public interest. But this comes with a set of challenges.

First, the scope and subject matter of the disputes brought before international courts and tribunals are changing. Indeed, many international courts and tribunals were initially designed to settle disputes arising between two states, with defined and attributable harms. However, some issues raised (or that could be raised) before international courts today challenge our traditional understanding of international adjudication. This traditional understanding of international disputes leaves out disputes over global commons (such as the deep seabed and space) and global goods (such as health), or disputes where the harm is done not to a single state, but to the international community at large (such as climate change). New types of disputes are emerging, calling into question the role of international courts within the international legal order.

Second, these new disputes have an impact at the procedural level. Notably, many nonstate actors have taken increasing interest in responding to international issues mentioned above, and other issues such as grave human rights violations or foreign direct investment by pursuing litigation on the international stage, upon the grounds that such matters are of the public interest. This has led to demands for procedural inclusion and transparency before international courts and tribunals. Procedural concepts such as those of jurisdiction and standing are questioned and reinterpreted in light of the push for public interest litigation. More generally, who should be allowed to access such courts, and who should benefit from such litigation?

Therefore, one of the current challenges faced by international courts and tribunals today is their adaptation and response to such demands, which are increasing alongside growing global crises. Against this background, the aim of this workshop is to address the following questions: who is the ‘public’ in public interest litigation? To what degree can international courts and tribunals respond to new needs in international society in order to successfully address disputes based on the public interest? Can public interest litigation before international courts and tribunals be a solution for today’s global problems? Is there a potential for public interest litigation before such fora to be developed?


Workshop on 11-12 November 2021, University of Exeter, Ibrahim Ahmed Room, Reed Hall

Thursday 11 November 2021

09.30 – 10.15Coffee
  10.15 – 10.30Welcome   Dr Aurel Sari, Director of the Exeter Centre for International Law, Associate Professor of International Law, University of Exeter  

Dr Yusra Suedi and Dr Justine Bendel, Organisers  
  10.30 – 12.30Notion and Contours of Public Interest Litigation

Discussant: Professor Phoebe Okowa, LLB (Nairobi) BCL (Oxon), DPhil (Oxon), Advocate (High Court of Kenya), Professor of Public International Law, Queen Mary, University of London  

Moderator: Dr Ben Hudson, Lecturer, University of Exeter    

On the pertinence of “public interest” for international litigation Marion Esnault, Paris Nanterre University

What is the ‘interest’ in public interest litigation? A propos the concept of interest in postmodern public law Dr Oleksandr Vodyannikov, Law Reform Commission, Ukraine  

The potential of public interest litigation before the International Court of Justice Ines Mesek, University of Geneva  
12.30 – 13.30Lunch
  13.30 – 16.00Design of interstate courts for public interest litigation: fit for purpose?

Discussant: Professor Christian Tams, International Law Chair and Director of the Glasgow Centre for International Law and Security (GCILS), University of Glasgow  

Moderator: Dr Brian McGarry, Assistant Professor, Grotius Centre, Leiden University  

The existence of a dispute and the protection of the public interest through contentious and advisory proceedings at the International Court of Justice Dr Priya Urs, University of Oxford  

Judicial advice for public interest: the role of advisory opinions in addressing common concerns Carlos Antonio Cruz Carrillo, University of Basel  

Third party intervention before the International Court of Justice: A tool for litigation in the public interest? Dr Craig Eggett and Sarah Thin, Maastricht University  

Mapping the ‘public’ in public interest litigation: an empirical analysis of ‘participants’ before the International Court of Justice Professor Paula Wojcikiewicz Almeida, Getulio Vargas Foundation Law School, and Professor Miriam Cohen, University of Montréal Law School  
16.00 – 16.30Coffee
  16.30 – 17.30Keynote speech, Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue, University of Geneva

Friday 12th November 2021

09.00 – 09.30Coffee
  09.30 – 12.00Issues of access and participation in public interest litigation

Discussant: Dr Brian McGarry, Assistant Professor, Grotius Centre, Leiden University

Moderator: Dr Justine Bendel, Lecturer, University of Exeter     

To intervene or not to intervene: intervention before the Court of Justice of the European Union in environmental and migration law Dr Jasper Krommendijk and Kris van der Pas, Radboud University Nijmegen  

Intervention of NGOs in investor-state arbitration: addressing public interest issues Dr Wasiq Abass Dar,Jindal Global Law School, and Gautam Mohanty, Kozminski University  

The Escazú Agreement and its implications for access to environmental justice before the Inter-American human rights system Dr Ricardo Pereira, Cardiff University  

The prevalence of third-party investigation in international criminal law: public interest litigation in a broader sense? Kristina Hellwig, University of Hamburg  
12.00 – 13.00Lunch
  13.00 – 15.00Climate Change Litigation as Public Interest Litigation

Discussant: Dr Kim Bouwer, Lecturer, University of Exeter

Moderator: Dr Alice Venn, Lecturer, University of Exeter

Climate change cases before the ECtHR Dr Corina Heri, University of Zurich  

Adjudicating climate change at the ICJ Dr Nataša Nedeski, University of Amsterdam, Dr Tom Sparks, Max-Planck Institute for International and Comparative Public Law, and Professor Gleider Hernández, KU Leuven & Open Universiteit  

Ocean climate-related matters: Public litigation against all odds Dr Vonintsoa Rafaly, University of Gothenburg  
15.00 – 15.30Coffee
  15.30 – 18.00Pushing the Boundaries of Public Interest Litigation

Discussant: Dr Justine Bendel, Lecturer, University of Exeter

Moderator: Federico Daniele, PhD Candidate, University of Geneva

Balancing public interest with health-related rights: current dilemmas and future prospects Dr Maria-Louiza Deftou, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens  

Corruption and the potential for public interest litigation Dr Cecily Rose, Leiden University

Earth system litigation: The legal personality of Earth Dr Alberto Quintavalla, Erasmus University Rotterdam  

The protection of indigenous groups before the IACrHR: the spiritual right as a collective right and a public interest Dr João Roriz, Valéria Emília de Aquino, and Marina Thaís Rodrigues Garcez, Federal University of Goiás
18.00 – 18.15Conclusion  

Dr Yusra Suedi and Dr Justine Bendel, Organisers

Workshop Format

The organisers will hold a two-day workshop preferably in person, but if travelling is not possible due to ongoing COVID restrictions, it will be held either via video conference or in a hybrid format. Each paper will receive comments and feedback from other workshop participants, who are expected to have read each other’s papers.

For any further queries, please contact us at


The project is the product of a collaboration between researchers based at the University of Exeter (UK) and at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). It is funded through the GenEx Joint Seed Money Funding Scheme.