Lecturer in Public International Law

Director of Alumni Relations

BA(Hons)/LLB(Hons); PhD
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Dr Michelle Burgis-Kasthala's Homepage at Edinburgh Law School


Michelle Burgis-Kasthala joined the Law School in September 2013. Her teaching focusses on public international law and international human rights law. Her research centres on the operation and contestation over international law across the Arab World. Before joining the Law School, Michelle was a lecturer in International Law and Middle East Studies for five years in the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews.

Collaborative Activity


American Society of International Law

Centre for British Research in the Levant

Centre for Syrian Studies, University of St Andrews

Critical Approaches to International Criminal Law Research Network (http://www.caicl.net/)

European Society for International Law

Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights


Dr Michelle Burgis-Kasthala's Homepage at Edinburgh Law School

Courses Taught

Advanced Issues in Human Rights ()

Fundamental Issues in International Law (LLM)

International Human Rights Law (LLM)

International Law A: The Individual and International Law (Honours)

International Law Ordinary (semester 1) (Ordinary)

Theories of the International Legal Order ()

PhD Supervisees

Nicolas Ojeda Zavala  'Crossroads: how can the Precautionary Principle improve the consultation process and the protection of the rights of the indigenous people'

Loqman Radpey  'The Kurdish Statehood in the Middle East and its Status in International Law'

Xiaoou Zheng  'The protection of indigenous peoples and local communities' rights: integrating human rights into the international framework of access and benefit-sharing'

Books and Reports

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, Boundaries of Discourse in the International Court of Justice: Mapping Arguments in Arab Territorial Disputes, (Brill, 2009)
Abstract: How can Third World experiences of colonialism and statehood be expressed within the confines of the International Court of Justice? How has the discourse of international law developed to reflect postcolonial realities of 'universal' statehood? In a close and critical reading of four territorial disputes spanning the Arab World, Burgis explores the extent to which international law can be used to speak for and speak to non-European experiences of authority over territory. The book draws on recent, critical international legal scholarship to question the ability of contemporary, international adjudication to address Third World grievances from the past. A comparative analysis of the cases suggests that international law remains a discourse only capable of capturing a limited range of non-European experiences during and after colonialism.


Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, '(In)Dependent lives? International lawyers and the politics of state-building within the Palestinian advocacy field ', (2017), London Review of International Law, Vol 4, pp 393-419
Abstract: This article transposes Bourdieu’s description of a ‘juridical field’ to the cognate notion of an ‘advocacy field’, which I examine through the case of international lawyers working in Palestine. The discussion combines structural accounts of neoliberal state-building with individual narratives of advocates in Palestine to present a study on the dynamic nature of international legal discourse as grounded practice.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Introduction: How should we study international criminal Law? Some reflections on the potentialities and pitfalls of interdisciplinary scholarship', (2017), International Criminal Law Review, Vol 17, pp 227-238
Abstract: This introduction explores interdisciplinarity by first considering law as a discipline to account for how international criminal law has emerged as a field of practice and scholarship within the broader epistemic context of law. It then considers the nature of international criminal law scholarship before turning to questions of interdisciplinarity.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Scholarship as dialogue? TWAIL and the politics of methodology ', (2016), Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol 14, pp 921-937
Abstract: Scholars of International Criminal Law (ICL) and Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) rarely speak to each other and part of the reason for this is often divergent approaches to methodology. Thus, this article begins with an exploration of the ways in which international lawyers (mis)conceive methodology in their work so as to account for patterns of scholarly dialogue as well as silence. I argue in this article that ICL scholars can learn from TWAIL experiences with methodology, especially as the ICL field leaves the ‘honeymoon’ phase and enters a more ‘mature’ period that calls for greater reflexivity by practitioners and scholars alike. Understanding methodology with and against TWAIL is one way of contributing to ICL’s scholarly evolution.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Over-stating Palestine's UN membership bid?: An ethnographic study on the narratives of statehood', (2014), European Journal of International Law, Vol 25, pp 677-701
Abstract: This study employs a select ethnography of Palestinian workers in the field of international law and human rights to explore how an epistemic community gives content and meaning to international law in its professional and personal life. Through a series of interviews conducted in the West Bank in the wake of the Palestinian attempt to gain full United Nations membership in September 2011, the article constructs a meta-narrative about the nature of international legal discourse as spoken on the Palestinian periphery. It shows how speakers of international law are required to restate or over-state the distinction between law and politics so as to sustain their hope and desire for Palestinian statehood in the face of despair about its protracted denial. The article then is an exploration about the politics of meaning making through international law and a call for methodological hybridity within the discipline of international law.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Defining Justice during Transition?: International and Domestic Contestations over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon', (2013), International Journal of Transitional Justice, Vol 7, pp 497-517
Abstract: This article explores the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as a site of contestation and consolidation for the fields of international criminal justice (ICJ) and transitional justice (TJ). Created in response to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, the STL exhibits the particularly confined notions of ‘justice’ that are at play across the ICJ field. An examination of domestic Lebanese debates surrounding the Tribunal reveals, however, that ‘justice’ in the Lebanese case possesses many meanings. Rather than accept the false binary of the international over the domestic and the trial over broad-based social dialogue, this analysis of the STL reveals ways in which meanings of justice remain open to contestation both on the ground and in ICJ and TJ. The article illustrates this by examining the international–domestic law binary at play in the STL’s establishment and the way local Lebanese actors have challenged it in the country’s ongoing struggle for postconflict political stability.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Transforming (Private) Rights through (Public) International Law:: Readings on a ‘Strange and Painful Odyssey’ in the PCIJ Mavrommatis Case1', (2011), Leiden Journal of International Law, Vol 24, pp 873-97
Abstract: Straddling both the centres of (European) power and the shifting dynamics of the post-Ottoman world in a quest to guarantee private rights through public international legal redress, the PCIJ Mavrommatis case provides a rich resource for interrogating the extent to which international law during the League period could speak for voices on the edge of empire. In this article, historical consideration of the regimes of empire and Mandate form the backdrop to an exploration into how international legal discourse (re)configured the relationship between the core and the periphery, especially for those peoples awaiting the promise of self-determination and sovereignty. The figure of a lone Greek investor and his dashed hopes in the newly created Palestine Mandate is the backdrop to this tale of ever-shifting interpretations of public and private rights, of speech as well as silence before and beyond the Peace Palace.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Faith in the state? Traditions of territoriality and the emergence of modern Arab statehood ', (2009), Journal of the History of International Law, Vol 11, pp 37-79

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'A Discourse of Distinction?: Palestinians, International Law and the Promise of Humanitarianism', (2009), Palestine Yearbook of International Law, Vol 15, pp 41-66

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'The promise of solid ground: Arab states, territorial disputes and the discourse of international law', (2008), International Community Law Review, Vol 10, pp 73-99

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Discourses of division: Law, olitics, and the ICJ advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory', (2008), Chinese Journal of International Law, Vol 7, pp 33-63

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Judicial Reform and the Possibility of Democratic Rule in Jordan?: A Policy Perspective on Judicial Independence', (2007), Arab Law Quarterly, Vol 21, pp 135-69
Abstract: Studying the independence of Jordan's judiciary provides an opportunity for appreciating current structural impediments to democratic governance and economic reform. In this article, judicial independence is critically explored through an examination of Jordan's legal system, its political culture as well as regional and international policy initiatives. A number of suggestions are advanced in a bid to encourage ongoing dialogue about the central role an independent judiciary must play in advancing the interests of all stakeholders in future reform efforts whether in Jordan or the wider Arab region.

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, '(De)limiting the past for future gain: The relationship between sovereignty, colonialism and oil in the qatar v Bahrain territorial dispute', (2005), Yearbook of Islamic and Middle-Eastern Law, Vol 12, pp 557-586


Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Middle East boundaries and state formation ' in Tony Carty (ed.) Oxford Bibliographies in International Law (Oxford University Press 2019)

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'How should international lawyers study Islamic Law and its contribution to International Law? ' in Ignacio de la Rasilla, Ayesha Shahid (ed.) International Law and Islam (Brill 2018) 39-63

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Holding individuals to account beyond the state? Rights, regulation and the resort to international criminal responsibility' in Peter Drahos (ed.) Regulatory Theory (ANU Press 2017) 429-444

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'An arresting event Assassination within the Purview of International Criminal Law' in Christine Schwöbel (ed.) Critical Approaches to International Criminal Law (Routledge 2014) 246-263

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 'Mandated Sovereignty? The Role of International Law in the Construction of Arab Statehood during and after Empire' in Sally N. Cummings, Raymond Hinnebusch (ed.) Sovereignty after Empire (Edinburgh University Press 2012) 104-26
Abstract: This chapter considers how international law has shaped and continues to shape Middle East and North Africa (MENA) states by examining the inter-related factors of international legal personality, self-determination claims and the adjudication of boundary disputes. It focuses on three case studies in the colonial and postcolonial periods: the mandate states; the case of Western Sahara's (failed) self-determination bid; and some of the small states of the Gulf. The chapter takes issue with traditional narratives of rupture and instead points to continuities. In particular, it focuses on the inter-war period of the mandate system to highlight the inseparable relationship between formal and informal empire and its enduring legacies across the Arab world. It argues that international law has played an important role in delimiting and limiting the possibilities of post-colonial statehood in the MENA region. Thus, it is only in understanding international law in the colonial and mandatory eras that we can make sense of the present.