Inspiring Stories
15- Laurence Boisson de Chazournes

Laurence Boisson de Chazournes

Class of 1991
Visiting Professor, College de France (2022-2023)
Arbitrator, Counsel and Advocate before the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
Professor, University of Geneva (since 1999)

Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, born in Douala, Cameroon, and having spent her young years in Nigeria, is  a prominent figure in the field of international law. She is a renowned expert of international law who specialises in international organisations, international dispute settlement and international environmental law. Her impressive career has seen her excel as an arbitrator, counsel and advocate before prominent judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. With her extensive knowledge and expertise, she has made significant contributions  to shaping the landscape of international law.

Boisson de Chazournes is a professor of international law at the University of Geneva, and has served as a visiting professor at  prestigious universities like the National University of Singapore and the Collège de France, where she holds the chair of its “Sustainable Common Future” initiative in 2022-2023.

One of Boisson de Chazournes' notable areas of expertise lies in the prevention and settlement of disputes concerning international watercourses. She has been involved in a multitude of high-profile negotiations related to the Senegal River, the Aral Sea Basin and the Nile River, amongst others. Through her dedicated efforts, she has played a crucial role in finding equitable and sustainable solutions to complex water management issues. Thus, she has become one of the foremost experts in legal matters pertaining to the utilisation of water as a natural resource. In Geneva, she directs the platform for international freshwater law within the well-known Geneva Water Hub and she has also served as a member of the Global High-Level Panel for Water and Peace.

Boisson de Chazournes, who was already involved in the preparation of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit as secretary for what was then the preparatory work on the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change, advocates for the need for a universal understanding and language to tackle pressing environmental issues. Moreover, reflecting her longstanding commitment to environmental causes, she argues that ensuring universal access to water, a crucial objective among the United Nations' seventeen Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, is undeniably ‘’a matter of human dignity. We cannot survive without a basic supply of water. Unfortunately, this precious resource remains a source of significant disparities worldwide." She stresses that each river possesses unique characteristics—geographical, hydrological, human, and political. She advocates for granting rivers legal personality, asserting that "we must allow nature to have a legal voice."

Moreover, recognizing the formidable challenges posed by globalisation and its inherent limitations, Boisson de Chazournes embraces a principled approach rooted in ethics and exhibits a steadfast belief in humanity's capacity to thrive, particularly in environmental endeavours. In her practice of the law, she emphasises the social significance of law, echoing the aspirations and demands of society throughout the world. During her career, her expertise has been sought by the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. Furthermore, her involvement as Counsel and Advocate before the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has sealed her reputation as an influential figure in the field of international law. During her time with the World Bank’s legal department, one of her early assignments revolved around the Senegal River in the second half of the 1990s. Another of her notable early achievements was her involvement in addressing the legality of the threat and the use of nuclear weapons on behalf of a Pacific State, in the context of a request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. Amongst her many later appearances as counsel before the International Court of Justice, mention should be made of her contribution to the case on Whaling in the Antarctic, which helped spotlight and question the legality of the Japanese whaling programs in the Southern Ocean. In addition to litigation, she firmly believes that negotiations on water and environmental-related issues can also play a pivotal role in resolving international conflicts.

Boisson de Chazournes stands out as an exemplary figure in the field of international law, advocating for sustainable solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges. Her expertise, unwavering dedication, and commitment to the ideals of justice and equity have bolstered her reputation as a leading authority in her field.

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Laurence Boisson de Chazournes