Coif Distinguished Visitor Oona Hathaway Speaks on the War in Ukraine


Student Experience Events Visitors
Professor Oona Hathaway

Oona Hathaway, Gerald C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law at Yale Law School, presented a lecture to Northwestern Pritzker School of Law as the 2023 Coif Distinguished Visitor on Wednesday. In the lecture, “International Law Goes to War in Ukraine,” Hathaway discussed the war in Ukraine and the future of the international legal order.

The Order of the Coif is an honorary scholastic society that encourages “excellence in legal education by fostering a spirit of careful study, recognizing those who as law students attained a high grade of scholarship, and honoring those who as lawyers, judges and teachers attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional accomplishments,” according to the Order’s website. The Distinguished Visitor Program allows chapters to bring renowned members of the legal profession to their campuses to promote the Order’s mission.

The Northwestern Pritzker Law community gathered in Lincoln Hall as Hathaway spoke about the war in Ukraine, how Russia has violated the international legal order, and the impact of this global war. “Russia put the international legal order at risk when it launched its war a year ago,” said Hathaway. “But what has and will determine the future of the international legal order is how nations respond to that violation—and whether that response can be sustained. The war in Ukraine began as the greatest threat to the international legal order, but it may turn out to be its salvation.”

International legal order or international law are a set of legal rules that apply between sovereign states based on treaties. It organizes the behavior between nations around the world for a common goal of civility.

Hathaway said one promising note is that nations around the globe have called out Russia’s violation of international law. “It’s a pretty clear and comprehensive condemnation of this invasion by Russia,” said Hathaway. “The [United Nations] General Assembly has acted in significant ways in the face of paralysis in the Security Council. The Security Council has been paralyzed by Russian vetoes. They have not been able to act. But what we are seeing is the General Assembly has taken on some of that role.”

In November, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on Russian reparations for Ukraine. Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said that Russia “must be held accountable for its violations of international law,” according to the United Nations. Earlier in the year, the General Assembly voted to further isolate Russia over the Ukrainian war.

“Since it began almost a year ago, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in violation of international law has caused loss of life, hardship, and devastation. It also interacted with our international legal system and global order in important ways that have implications for this conflict but also the future,” said Dean Hari Osofsky. “As lawyers and legal professionals, it is important for us to support law and human rights. Dialogues like these are critical to our doing so and we are grateful to have Professor Hathaway sharing her expertise with us.”

Hathaway is an expert in international law. She is the Gerald C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law and Area Studies at Yale Law School, Professor of International Law and Area Studies at the Yale University MacMillan Center, Professor of the Yale University Department of Political Science, and Director of the Yale Law School Center for Global Legal Challenges. She has been a member of the Advisory Committee on International Law for the Legal Adviser at the United States Department of State since 2005. In 2014-15, she took leave to serve as Special Counsel to the General Counsel at the U.S Department of Defense, where she was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence.

The event was co-organized by Associate Dean for Research and Intellectual Life Paul Gowder, and Visiting Professor and Interim Director of the Center for International Human Rights Ibrahim Gassama.