Dear Yoram, In Memoriam

by | Feb 14, 2024

Yoram Dinstein

Editors’ note: This post honors Professor Yoram Dinstein, who passed away on Saturday February 10, 2024. Over the coming weeks, Articles of War will feature a series of posts to recognize Professor Dinstein’s work and the significant contribution his scholarship has made to our understanding of international law.

On Sunday, when I heard that you had passed away, it felt like the end of an era. Thank you for your persistent, prompt, and precise guidance throughout the years. You have shaped my view on international law and on how to work with legal questions. In 2011, I nervously asked whether you by any chance would consider undertaking the role as my PhD supervisor. You replied promptly, as you would in the years to come, “in principle, yes . . . .” I was thrilled and had no clue of what I had embarked upon.

“Either seriously, or not at all”

I had previously enrolled in the PhD program at the University of Oslo. But the research academy I attended in the coming years was entirely yours. Instead of being fixed on conclusions, you emphasized the correct point of departure. You were merciless when it came to formulating the right questions; my conclusions were less interesting, provided I did not jump to them. “Show me” and “I cannot accept you begging the question,” were among the feedback I kept receiving on my overly creative early pieces of work.

I was overwhelmed by your persistent follow-up. You commented on everything, big and small (“do me a favour: use a speller”), wrote me letters, and offered what turned out to be three levels of feedback. The first level, and the best I could usually aspire for, could include comments such as “I like this part, which I expect to grow further, albeit within reason.” The second level, where there was hope for survival in the written piece of work, could generate comments such as, “This is one of your pet subjects, but—in contrast to some of your other pet themes—I have always been in favour of developing it further (compared to what is submitted at present).” The second level of feedback would be accompanied by a number of prescribed revisions, deletions, and amendments to transform the chapter into something that could pass. Finally, the third level feedback, which simply meant that I would have to delete all text and go back to the start, would be presented as, “At this point, I really do not know what you are talking about,” or “this chapter is not satisfactory at all,” or “this chapter is a mish-mash of ideas.”

I soon learned that any research must be written four times to pass and I made the four-times-production my rule of thumb. I have since failed to meet, read about, or hear of your equal in terms of consistency and precision. But most importantly, through your lessons I discovered many more legal limits on the use of force than what one might be inclined to believe at first glance. Your presentation of the law always entailed a delicate and realistic balance between the necessities of war and humanitarian considerations.

Among your strengths, as I see them, was the ability to build up a solid legal ground for the limit in question, with no superfluous words and with loyalty to the very essence of the core principles of the law of armed conflict. You always knew why and how a certain rule had turned out the way it was in either treaty or customary law. And you demonstrated an admirable understanding and knowledge of how the law would fit with the real life of armed conflict.

I have tried to encapsulate some of your teachings. Most importantly, I gradually understood how genuinely openly you approached a research question. It was always a question in its truest sense and I believe you were always open to alternative arguments, provided they were sound and properly presented. I learned to be friends with the phrase, “Either you do not go into a subject or you treat it seriously.” Between “seriously” and “not at all” there can indeed be a tough and tempting line. And when I mentioned tangential points in a legal argument, you persistently cut me off with the message that these “digressions” were “unacceptable.”

Finally, when confronted with the (highly contentious and often disputed) issue of merging or collapsing the distinction between the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello, I recall a brief comment (which burned into my memory) that if that would be the case, this would be the same as to bring the legal order “back to Genghis Khan.”

A Final Farewell

Thank you dear Yoram for the privilege of attending your “research academy” and for your delicate guidance in a demanding venture. I hope the legal order in your aftermath will be able to resist being brought back to the 13th Century. I shall strive to do my part, in your memory.

All the best and rest in peace in this violent world,



Sigrid Redse Johansen is the Judge Advocate General for the Norwegian Armed Forces.




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