Interview With ASIL Executive Director Betsy Andersen

by Roger Alford

Opinio Juris warmly welcomes Betsy Andersen as the new Executive Director for the American Society of International Law. We are delighted that Betsy has agreed to be interviewed to introduce her to our readers. Having spent several hours this weekend at a colloquium discussing the future of the ASIL with Betsy Andersen and ASIL President Jose Alvarez, I left convinced that the organization is in very goods hands and that her selection was an inspired choice.

Andersen is a graduate of Yale Law School, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and Williams College. Her area of expertise is international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law. Prior to becoming Executive Director of the ASIL this month, she served as the Executive Director of the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA CEELI), where she had worked since 2003. Prior to that position she was the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, where she had also worked as a researcher and director of advocacy for a total of eight years. Before joining Human Rights Watch, she served as Legal Assistant to Judge Georges Abi-Saab of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and as a law clerk to Judge Kimba M. Wood of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

1. What is your future vision for the ASIL?

I want to see the Society as a powerful force for greater understanding and use of international law. This means reaching out to new constituencies for international law among legal practitioners, the media, policymakers, politicians, and the general public, while sustaining the Society’s longstanding role as a forum for expert discussion and debate of the critical international legal issues of the day.

2. Tell us about your background. What brings you to the ASIL?

I first discovered ASIL in 1995 while serving as a law clerk at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where I saw the impact that the Society–its members, meetings, and publications—had on the development of that institution. I knew that it was an intellectual community to which I wanted to belong. Since that time, I have been working in the international human rights and legal development fields—at Human Rights Watch and the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative. What ties this prior work experience to my new ASIL post is a commitment to making change and using international law to do so—or, as the ASIL centennial motto puts it, fostering “A Just World Under Law.”

3. In your view, what are the strengths of the ASIL?

ASIL’s strengths include its superb publications—the time-honored American Journal of International Law, International Legal Materials, and, more recently, its electronic resources: Insights, International Law in Brief, IL.Post, Electronic Information System for International Law, the Electronic Resource Guide, and International Judicial Monitor. It also enjoys virtually unmatched convening power that makes its meetings “must-go” events in the international legal arena. And finally, the organization has a rich and valuable tradition as a non-partisan society that brings together diverse viewpoints from many perspectives—and today, 100 nations. In a time when differences seem glaring, it is important for there to be such forums for dialogue and problem-solving.

4. In your view, what are the weaknesses of the ASIL?

Put simply, there’s not enough of the Society! It should be bigger, have more members, and greater reach and impact. In recent years, the ASIL’s leadership has made important investments in the Society’s infrastructure and outreach capacity—its Washington, DC, headquarters at Tillar House, its electronic communications capacity, and outreach programs targeting judges and the media. These have been extremely effective programs and lay the groundwork for developing a more externally engaged Society.

5. How does the ASIL plan to take greater advantage of the Internet and the information revolution?

With almost half our members in more than 100 countries, we have to do as much as we can to take advantage of the Internet. We are in the process of building an even more user-friendly web presence to provide a wide range of information—from primary source materials in international law to sophisticated timely analysis of current events. As the field of international law becomes ever more specialized, we are also investing in our 20 Interest Groups and providing them with new web-based portals for sharing information and articles, announcing events, and chatting about current developments. Finally, we have in the past year developed a very successful “webinar” program through which our members can provide live, interactive seminars on current issues via telephone and internet. To date, these programs have targeted a media audience, but there is potential for expanding such programs. I encourage Opinio Juris readers and bloggers to take a look, not only at our past webinars, but at all of ASIL’s on-line resources at and to let me know what they think.

6. Anything else you would like to add?

If I could add just one more thing in conclusion, I’d like to invite Opinio Juris readers to join us for ASIL’s next Annual Meeting, which will take place in Washington, DC, March 28-31, 2007. Some 1600 conferees attended our 100th Meeting this past spring, and the 101st Meeting promises to be yet another great event featuring timely discussion of international legal issues by the leaders in the field. Registration will open up next week on our website, available here.

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