Sept. 8, 2011
Law faculty member headed UN inquiry on Israeli attack on Turkish shipping
A report issued last week by the United Nations about an Israeli attack on a Turkish aid flotilla off the coast of Gaza in 2010 was overseen by an occasional member of the University of Iowa College of Law faculty.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer was president of the so-called Palmer Committee that investigated the fatal Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla headed for Gaza in May 2010. The commission determined that Israel's blockade of Gaza is legal and appropriate, but Israel's attack and boarding of the flotilla was excessive and unreasonable.
Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, has taught law at UI on and off for more than 40 years.
"Iowa's always felt very familiar to me," said Palmer, who first joined the Iowa law faculty in 1969. "The state is similar to New Zealand in that they are both agricultural and the people have many of the same social attitudes. The law school is also outstanding, and so I always looked forward to returning."
Palmer was a full-time UI faculty member until 1974, during which time he left his mark by helping to create the college's international law and comparative law programs, and establishing the law school's Journal of Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems.
After leaving Iowa, Palmer returned to New Zealand to teach law and begin a career in government and public service. He was elected to parliament in 1979 as a Labour representative from Christchurch and rose through the party ranks to become prime minister in 1989 and 1990. He left parliament after stepping down as prime minister and returns to Iowa frequently to teach full courses, intersession courses, and at the college's international program in Arcachon, France.
He also meets with faculty and students to discuss his work and career in New Zealand politics, diplomacy and government service, and co-authored the course book "International Environmental Law" with UI law professors Jonathan Carlson and Burns Weston.
Palmer singles out the college's law library for praise, saying it's the best law library he's ever seen at any institution in the world. He said there are documents relating to international whaling law that he's been unable to find in any library in New Zealand, a country where whaling is central to the culture, that he found in the law library in Iowa, a place that hasn't seen a whale since the primordial oceans receded.
"You can find in this library pretty much everything published in English in the common law world since the Iowa College of Law was founded," said Palmer, noting that it deserved the number one ranking recently given to it by National Jurist magazine.
Palmer continues to stay active in public service and New Zealand government. He's been his country's representative to the International Whaling Commission since 2002 and continues to serve as president of the New Zealand Law Commission, an independent agency that reviews, reforms and seeks to improve that country's laws.
"It's always difficult to explain to American's about a law commission because you don't have them here," he said. The commission chooses a topic -- property transfer reform, for instance -- then reviews the country's laws relating to the topic. Once the review is complete, it presents a list of issues it sees in the laws and holds a series of public hearings, after which it presents its final report to amend the laws so they make more sense, often accompanied by a draft law for parliament to consider.
"Reforming the law is a big, difficult thing, and government departments don't have the time or resources to do the systematic research, so our commission does that," he said.
More information on the UN committee's report is available online at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39443&Cr=Gaza&Cr1=.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
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