Renowned international lawyer elected to ILC

University of Auckland Honorary Professor Dr Penelope Ridings, MNZM, has been elected to the International Law Commission - the United Nations global body tasked with the progressive development and codification of international law.

Nominated by New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Sierra Leone, Dr Ridings has been elected for a five year term starting 1 January 2023.

Regarded as one of New Zealand’s most distinguished international lawyers, she has worked with New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and been both Chief International Legal Adviser and an Ambassador.

During Ridings’ 30-year career, she has advocated for fair and enduring legal solutions to difficult problems, and has advised on a range of international law issues from human rights and the environment to trade and security. She has a strong track record in negotiating, collaborating, and finding common ground to forge solutions to complex legal issues. 

International law is central to addressing contemporary global challenges such as climate change and threats to security, including health and cyber security.

Dr Penny Riding

“International law is central to addressing contemporary global challenges such as climate change and threats to security, including health and cyber security,” says Dr Ridings.

“New Zealand has a distinct perspective of international law, based on cooperation, fairness and the idea of kaitiakitanga, the Māori concept of guardianship and care of people and the environment. On the international stage, this translates to strong support for multilateralism and the importance of rules to guide the relations between States. We are internationally recognised for our willingness to collaborate with others and to see diverse perspectives."

“I want to try to bring, not only a New Zealand perspective to the commission, but also my own angle as someone who has a practical experience, and as someone who has spent many years living in the Pacific. In a way, I feel like I can not only represent NZ, but also broader the region. This is particularly important at a time when the commission is looking at issues like the impacts of climate change on the low-lying Island states,” she says.

That is one of the contributions that I can make to the commission – understanding the practical and theoretical side of international law – as well as the perspective of a New Zealander, and from living and working in the Pacific region.

The Auckland Law School alumna says law did not really ‘grab’ her until she took a course in international law. This was followed by all the international law courses available including Pacific Legal Studies taught by Professors Bernard Brown and David V Williams. This ignited her interest in the Pacific region, a focus that has continued throughout her career including being the High Commissioner of New Zealand to Samoa, and legal adviser to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The culmination of a stellar career, Ridings’ new position with the International Law Commission will see her travel from her home in Coromandel, to Geneva twice a year.

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