An interview with Alex Conte, Consultant on Security and Human Rights, about The Ashgate International Law series

An interview with Dr Alex Conte, Consultant on Security and Human Rights, Series Editor for The Ashgate International Law series

What encouraged you to enter academia?

After practicing as a criminal barrister for several years, I gave thought to returning to university to undertake a PhD, but was instead recruited by my former professor of international law to take his job.

What made you (decide to) initiate this series?

Public and private international law are increasingly important subjects in today’s global environment. After founding the New Zealand Yearbook of International Law in 2004, and writing the first New Zealand-authored book on public international law in 2006, I moved to the United Kingdom to teach as a Reader in Law at the University of Southampton. Against the background of my interests and experiences, it was without hesitation that I took up Ashgate’s invitation to establish the International Law Series. The Series purposely calls itself the Ashgate “International Law” Series, in order to allow it to include titles dealing with both public and private international law.

What are your academic background and research interests?

I began my research career in human rights law, while working as an in-house lawyer to the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, considering in particular the question of the interface between human rights and security issues, including the administration by the defence force of a separate code of military discipline and its operation ‘in the field’. My interests naturally progressed to international human rights law and public international law and the challenges of human rights compliance when seeking to achieve security objectives such as the countering of terrorism. My research interests focus on three main areas: (i) counter-terrorism and human rights (focusing on comparative approaches to the implementation of the international framework on counter-terrorism, including wider consideration of security infrastructure and elements of best human-rights compliant practice); (ii) international human rights law and domestic civil liberties (with particular interest in the right to a fair trial and restrictions on this to deal with the protection of information prejudicial to national security; and freedom of expression, including media control and the suppression of public provocation to incite terrorism); and (iii) core principles of public international law (with a developing interest in the enforcement of international law, including through mechanisms such as individual complaint mechanisms, periodic reporting, peer review, independent/special rapporteurs, and the like).

Very briefly, where do you see your discipline going in the future?

The questions posed by human rights in the prevention and punishment of terrorism are significant and continue to raise challenges. Although the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy recognises that human rights compliance and the medium- and long-term countering of terrorism are mutually reinforcing, and that the violation of human rights itself amounts to a condition conducive to the spread of terrorism, non-human-rights-compliant practices continue to exist and develop in democratic and pluralistic societies. Security infrastructures, particularly in the context of emerging technologies, also pose many challenging issues for the road ahead.

What has been the highlight of your academic career so far?

I hope that this is still to come, but I have thoroughly enjoyed working closely on thematic reports and country missions with the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, and recently completing an extensive manuscript on Human Rights in the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism.

Whose achievements would you like to emulate within your own field?

Martin Scheinin, Professor of International Law at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, has acted as an informal mentor of mine over recent years and I hope to be able to achieve the balance he has struck between producing an extensive and well-respected record of academic research and publication, while also contributing in practical ways to the promotion and protection of human rights in the international community.

What book (not from the series, but generally) has most influenced your own work?

It is difficult to identify any single book, but one that I refer to frequently is Bruno Simma’s The Charter of the United Nations. A Commentary.

What do you find particularly interesting about your role as series editor?

The chance to see emerging ideas concerning a wide range of issues and challenges facing modern public international law, and to contribute, in an albeit minor way, to the realisation of these ideas into published manuscripts.

Any advice for people wanting to publish in your series?

Never underestimate the time and effort it takes to bring an idea into fruition. Pursue your ideas, but aim to do so with the highest academic rigour possible, while at the same time writing in a way that can be understood by as wide an audience as possible.

What was the last book you read?

Terrorism and the State Rethinking the Rules of State Responsibility, by Tal Becker.

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