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Leading international law scholar Charney dies

by Susanne Loftis
One of the world’s preeminent experts on international law, Jonathan I. Charney, died at his home Sept. 7 after a lengthy illness. Charney, the Lee S. and Charles A. Speir Chair in Law at Vanderbilt University Law School, was co-editor-in-chief of the American Journal of International Law, the premier international law journal in the world.

Charney, 58, was a frequent consultant to the United States and foreign governments in connection with international boundary disputes and other issues. Most recently, his scholarship and his work in private and public conferences were dedicated toward finding a resolution to the conflict between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China.

''Professor Charney was among the most eminent law scholars in the world,'' said Kent Syverud, dean and Garner Anthony Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School. ''His greatest renown in international law was in boundary disputes among nations, and he was frequently called upon to resolve these disputes. He worked tirelessly for the Vanderbilt Law School and was a great colleague.”

A graduate of New York University and the University of Wisconsin Law School, Charney came to Vanderbilt in 1972 from the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as an attorney and section chief in the Land and Natural Resources Division. He helped develop the Nixon administration’s negotiating position for the law of the sea conference that guided U.S. policy during succeeding administrations. After joining the faculty of the Law School, he served as a member of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. He also served as a delegate to the Third United Nations Conference of the Law of the Sea.

Charney wrote extensively and taught courses on a wide range of topics in international law, from public international law to international environmental law, international human rights law, international criminal law and international courts and admiralty.

In 1998, Charney was invited to deliver the prestigious Hague Lectures at the Academy of International Law in the Netherlands, an honor extended only to leading scholars in the field. Charney’s lectures, on “The Multiplicity of International Tribunals and the Universality of International Law,” were the culmination of three years of international law research.

Friends and family described Charney as “a man driven by a belief that through diplomacy and proper adherence to international law, nations could better foster peace and better manage the world's natural resources.”

Charney received the Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor Award from Vanderbilt University in 1999. He received the American Society of International Law’s Certificate of Merit for the volumes he co-edited with Lewis M. Alexander, International Maritime Boundaries, published in 1993.

Charney is survived by his wife of 36 years, Sharon Charney; his mother; three children; and three brothers. Memorial donations can be made to the World Wildlife Fund or the American Society of International Law. Services for Charney were held on Sept. 9 in Nashville.

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