"The earth may be divided into states, the environment is not"

"The earth may be divided into states, the environment is not"

Dies Natalis Master's Prize Winner: Judith van Veldhuizen

02-04-2024 · Interview

The climate is changing. Domestic policies of countries sometimes make things even worse. An example is the deforestation in the Amazon in Brazil. Could this country be brought before the International Court of Justice because of this? Judith van Veldhuizen investigated this question in her master’s thesis.

In Japan, radioactive water – resulting from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima – is being dumped into the sea. A potential danger to the ecosystem. In a blog on international law, 24-year-old Judith van Veldhuizen also read about deforestation in Brazil. The writer of the post wondered if international law had anything to say about this. This is normally about cross-border matters, Veldhuizen explains. Such as building a dam in a river that causes problems for people downstream in the next country.

The answer in the post was ‘no’. But Van Veldhuizen was not convinced, so she started her own investigation.


Having read many articles and having studied the jurisprudence, she arrived at a different conclusion: yes, a country can indeed be held responsible for causing damage to the environment within its own borders. This always has an effect on other countries. “We share one earth. It may well be divided up into territorial states, but the environment is not.” But will countries take such complaints to the International Court of Law in The Hague? “In practice, countries will hesitate to point a finger at each other. That would be rather hypocritical, because every country causes damage to some extent.” So, this has never happened yet. Van Veldhuizen feels that the knowledge that this possibility actually exists, may encourage countries to take such a step. Are international lawyers aware of her research? They soon will. It will appear in ‘The Hague Yearbook of International Law’, a highly respected journal for international legal experts.


In the end, she received a prize for her thesis: so it was a great success. But the process of getting there was not always easy. “I found choosing a subject to be the most difficult thing. You don’t want something that has been flogged to death by many, but also not something that is so new that it is not clear.” Nevertheless, Van Veldhuizen initially made that ‘mistake’ too. She chose a subject that had been done many times before. “But when I read that blog post, I immediately felt it clicked. And so I switched subject and supervisor.” The main question and structure were the toughest. “When the first step had been taken, I moved forward like a machine.” Halfway through her thesis she had already exceeded the maximum number of words. “My supervisor said: ‘Just keep going. At the end we will see if things need to be left out.’ So apparently everything I had written was important.”


Van Veldhuizen is now teaching students at the bachelor’s of European Law School. She is also supervising bachelor’s students who are writing their theses on International Law, also those from Dutch Law. But that is not all. As a student, she once participated in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, an arguing competition in which law students from various universities compete against each other. They represent countries in a fictitious case before the International Court of Law. Now Van Veldhuizen is on the other side: as a coach for the participants from Maastricht. “We are through to the international round." By now the team has arrived in Washington.

Thesis prizes

Every year during the Foundation Day celebrations, prizes are awarded to students who wrote the best bachelor’s and master’s theses. They receive a certificate and a cash prize of 500 euros. Observant interviewed eight of them. 

Illustration: Simone Golob

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: Dies Natalis 2024, thesisprize, master thesis,international law,moot court,instagram

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