Today, I attended an inspiring guest lecture delivered by H.E. CG Weeramantry, a former Vice President and Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), most famous for his dissenting and separate opinions on nuclear weapons and sustainable development. In his 50-minute, ex tempore address, the honourable judge spoke eloquently about how the wisdom of global religions should inspire the development of international law. Interweaving quotations from the Holy Quran, the Ramayana and the King James Bible, in his lecture he argued that these great scriptures are a treasure trove for those seeking to formulate principles of international environmental law, protect the rights of the child and preserve the rule of law. He referred to how Rama avoided the use of highly destructive weapons in the war against Ravana, after consulting great sages (of the law), and how Christ sought to protect the rights of children (and arguably future generations) by saying, “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). He spoke of how they all espoused sustainability and concern for future generations and stressed the cross-fertilisation of these universal ideas across civilizations. This was in line with his approach as an international judge, when he broke away from the traditional eurocentricism of the ICJ and arguably brought TWAIL more into the mainstream.
However, while looking at the past, at millennia of knowledge, the 89-year old judge had an eye fixed firmly at the future. Nuclear disarmament is not as high on the policy agenda now as it was in the ’80s and ’90s but sustainable development certainly is. Thus, the title of one of his 30 (!) books continues to be instructive – “Tread Lightly on the Earth” (quoting Ayat al-Furqan, 25:63).