In the last century, French and English became entrenched as the two working languages of international law. Since that time, we have witnessed the rapid development and integration of Asian nations into international systems and the adoption of English as the sole universal language in other fields. This article carries out a cost-benefit analysis concerning the continued use of French in international law, in particular at the tribunals of international criminal law.
The aim of this article is to assess whether the current bilingual system is fit for purpose in the 21st century. The mode of analysis is data, first showing the global use of languages today, and then regarding the make-up and workings of international courts, in particular the International Criminal Court. From this data, the author concludes that French is unfit for purpose as a common working language due to the bias that its use creates against Asian and Latin American nations.
Language, as a barrier to entry of the Court, further emboldens a pre-existing issue: a Court that is not truly global in composition. The over-assertion from Africa and the West coupled with lack of representation from the Asian, Latin, American, and Eastern European regions. While making the Court more accessible to a greater reach of candidates from across the globe is not a one-and-done solution to a topic of this magnitude, this is one step that can help integrate underrepresented nations and prompt them to have more faith in the ICC as an institution. The author concludes that the only satisfactory solution is the abandonment of French in favor of a system that uses English as the sole common working language.
Courtney Saunders recently relocated to Washington, D.C. She is working as a litigation paralegal at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, prior to attending law school in the fall of 2021. This post was based on Courtney’s honors thesis abstract. You can learn more about this project here. You can learn more about Courtney here.
The feature photo is from Pexels.