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Edward Kwakwa '90
I have been Legal Counsel at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva since October 2004. WIPO is a Specialized Agency of the United Nations with a membership of 188 States. It was established in 1970 to promote the protection of intellectual property worldwide.
I obtained my LLB (first law degree) from the University of Ghana in 1984, earned an LLM from Queen’s University in Canada in 1986, and earned another LLM and a JSD from Yale in 1990. From 1990 to 1993, I worked in the Washington, DC office of O’Melveny & Myers as an Associate, practicing mostly international trade and corporate law. In 1993, I was lucky to receive a call from the Commission on Global Governance’s General Secretary, informing me that they were interested in hiring “a young international lawyer.” They had been given my name by one of their contacts at the United Nations in New York, and wanted to know if I was interested in being interviewed for the position. From 1993 to 1994, I took a leave of absence from O’Melveny & Myers to serve as International Legal Adviser at the Commission in Geneva.
In 1994, I applied for a job with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva when I heard they were looking for someone with a public international law background. I joined the UNHCR as Senior Legal Adviser. After two years of international refugee law, however, I decided to move to a more commercial area of international law, and that was what motivated me to apply for a vacancy notice that appeared at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1996. I worked at the WTO for only a few months before moving to WIPO. Since all these organizations are based in Geneva, the move from one organization to another was relatively smooth and painless.
My work at WIPO includes various aspects of a typical international administrative, constitutional and public international law practice. For example, because the Director General of WIPO acts as depositary to some 26 treaties in the field of intellectual property, I perform various depositary functions (e.g., receiving and processing instruments of accession and ratification, making determinations as to the acceptability of various reservations to treaties, etc). In addition, I am responsible for drafting and interpreting rules of procedure as well as administrative and final clauses for the various treaties adopted at WIPO’s diplomatic conferences. I also represent the organization at the International Labor Organization’s Administrative Tribunal, where staff members occasionally bring cases against the Organization. This happens to be the least desirable aspect of my work, as I have to defend the Organization against colleagues and, in certain cases, friends. I am also responsible for the legal aspects of my Organization’s relations with the Host State, Switzerland. This includes advising on the Headquarters Agreement and the privileges and immunities to which the Organization and its staff members are entitled. My work hours at WIPO have been generally more than the average in the United Nations system. In general, I work between 10 to 12 hour days.
In my view, students wishing to have a career in the field of public international law must take all the courses available in that area. In particular, the courses in world public order, international business transactions, international comparative law, international commercial arbitration and legal constraints on the foreign affairs power are indispensable. The importance of a second language cannot be overemphasized. I had to enroll in a crash course in French, as my knowledge of the language was elementary at best. Due to the international nature of the work, most international organizations require a working knowledge of at least two main languages.
One of the best decisions I took while in law school was joining the American Society of International Law (ASIL). I attended every annual meeting, served as Reporter at panel sessions for four years, and have since participated in different capacities at the annual meeting, including as a Panelist and as a Member of the Annual Meeting Organizing Committee. Attending and participating in the annual meetings of the ASIL opened up various opportunities, including meeting several of the pre-eminent scholars and practitioners in the field. It also enabled me to keep abreast with developments and discussions in the field. I served on the Executive Council of the ASIL from 2001 to 2004 and am serving as a Counsellor from 2012 to 2015. I am also serving as a Vice President of the ASIL from 2015 – 2016.
Another useful activity was publishing articles in law reviews, journals and elsewhere. While at Yale, I made sure to elect a paper option whenever possible, and I frequently finalized those papers and submitted them for publication. I believe this gave me an advantage over my colleagues who did not have any publications when we graduated.
I have immensely enjoyed working as a public international lawyer and I would gladly and wholeheartedly recommend a career in any field of international law. I had some frustrating moments during my tenure at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In particular, I was surprised to see the temerity with which governments seemed to violate the provisions of the principal international refugee conventions. My general impression is that international trade and investment/international business norms are more effectively enforced and more rigorously adhered to than are the norms in the international human rights/humanitarian law area. This should, of course, not be the sole criterion in determining the area of international law in which one would like to have a career.