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Burns H. Weston

Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and Founder & Senior Scholar, UI Center for Human Rights



Retired from full-time teaching on The University of Iowa law faculty in June 1999, Professor Weston began his legal career in 1961 with the distinguished New York City law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. In 1966, after two years as a Sterling Fellow and Rockefeller Foundation Fellow at Yale Law School, he joined The University of Iowa College of Law. Since then, he served the College of Law as Founder & Chair of its International and Comparative Law Program and Graduate Program in International and Comparative Law (1989-93) and as Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies and Chair of the College's Graduate Program in International and Comparative Law (1993-99).

Additionally, beyond the College of Law, he served as Founding Director of the University's former Center for World Order Studies (1972-76) (later known as the University’s Global Studies Program), Senior Fellow and Director of the Transnational Academic Program of the Institute for World Order in New York City (1976-78), Founding Director of The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (1999-2004), and Visiting Professor of International Law at Grinnell College (1974), the University of California at Los Angeles (1981), Louisiana State University (1991), Florida State University (2001), the Hopkins-Nanjing Center of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University (2003), and the Vermont Law School (2004-2009).  While at Vermont Law School (VLS), he taught and consulted each Fall Term as Visiting Distinguished Professor of International Law and Policy, and served also as Director of the VLS Human Rights Initiative and Director of the VLS Climate Legacy Initiative, a joint project of the VLS Environmental Law Center and The University of Iowa (UI) Center for Human Rights. In December 2004, Professor Weston resigned as Founding Director of the UI Center for Human Rights and was named lifetime Senior Scholar of the Center. 

At about the same time, Professor  Weston was appointed as a senior human rights adviser (“Expert on Mission”) to UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy. In June 2006, he was appointed as a senior human rights adviser to IKEA’s worldwide “Social Initiative” (the manufacturer’s philanthropic arm). Also at that time, owing to the untimely death of his successor as Director of the UI Center for Human  Rights, he was appointed Interim Director of the Center (2006-07). Since 2009, he has co-directed (with commons scholar David Bollier) the independently funded Commons Law Project, a bold attempt to imagine a new architecture of law and public policy that can effectively address climate change and other urgent ecological problems while advancing human rights and social empowerment.

Professor Weston’s teaching and research interests have centered on international jurisprudence, international human rights law (including intergenerational rights), the laws of war, the law of state responsibility (particularly in relation to the concerns of developing countries), international environmental law, and US foreign relations law. 

In recent years, provoked by the mounting threats of climate change, Professor Weston he has been especially interested in teaching and researching about the interface of human rights and environmental law--a focus that in 2015 led him to be appointed Associate Fellow of the recently established New Economy Law Center at Vermont Law School, home of the leading environmental law program in the United States.

When he is not teaching, lecturing, or counsulting elsewhere in the world, he rejoins the Iowa law faculty in adjunct capacity to teach Foundations of International Law, Human Rights in the World Community, International Legal Jurisprudence, Advanced Topics in International Law and Policy (applying "International Incidents" methodology), and an Advanced Human Rights Law & Policy Research Seminar. For select students, he offers an Advanced Tutorial on International Human Rights Law & Policy.

Professor Weston is the author of many books and articles, including articles in the American Journal of International Law, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Harvard International Law Journal, Human Rights & Human Welfare, the Human Rights Quarterly, the Intergenerational Justice Review, the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Oxford's Human Rights Law Review, the Maine Law Review, the McGill Law Journal, Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, the University of Chicago Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, and the Virginia Journal of International Law.  Recent major scholarly achievements include a policy paper issued by the Vermont Law School-University of Iowa Climate Legacy Initiative titled Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice and published by Vermont Law School in Spring 2009; International Environmental Law and World Order: A Problem-Oriented Coursebook (West 3d ed., 2012) (with Professor Jonathan C. Carlson of The University of Iowa and Sir Geoffrey Winston Russell Palmer KCMG AC QC, former Prime Minister of New Zealand); and a ground-breaking book titled Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Law of the Commons, co-authored with commons scholar David Bollier (Amherst, MA) and published by Cambridge University Press in early 2013. Summarized by the two authors in "Reimagining Ecological Governance through a Rediscovery of the Commons," in Thought, Law, Action and Rights in an Age of Environmental Crisis (Edward Elgar Publishing, A. Grear & E. Grant eds., 2015), the book details a commons- and rights-based approach to ecological governance that responds directly to the mounting calls for a paradigm shift in the way humans relate to the natural environment. Yet more recent is a virtually all new 4th edition of Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Action, co-authored and co-edited with Cardiff University law professor Anna Grear and forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press in early 2016. 

Other major works by Professor Weston include: the award-winning textbook International Law and World Order: A Problem-Oriented Coursebook (Thomson-West, 4th ed, 2006) of which he is the lead co-author; Child Labor and Human Rights: Making Children Matter (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2005); The Future of International Human Rights (originally Transnational Publishers, Inc., 1999, now Martinus Nijhoff Publishers) (with Professor Stephen P. Marks of Harvard University); International Claims: Their Settlement by Lump Sum Agreement, 1975-1995 (originally Transnational Publishers, Inc. 1999, now Martinus Nijhoff Publishers) (with Professor Richard B. Lillich, late of the University of Virginia, and Professor David J. Bederman, late of Emory University);   Preferred Futures for the United Nations (originally Transnational Publishers, Inc. 1995, now Martinus Nijhoff Publishers) (with Professor Saul H. Mendlovitz of Rutgers University); also an annotated and annually updated multi-volume collection titled International Law and World Order: Weston’s & Carlson’s Basic Documents (original hardback from Transnational Publishers, Inc., 1994-2010), now in electronic format online with Brill/Martinus Nijhoff Publishers in the Netherlands) (with Professor Jonathan C. Carlson of The University of Iowa). Other, but older major writings of Professor Weston include: Alternative Security: Living Without Nuclear Deterrence (Westview Press, 1990); Toward Nuclear Disarmament and Global Security: A Search for Alternatives (Westview Press, 1984); Toward World Order and Human Dignity: Essays in Honor of Myres S. McDougal (The Free Press, 1976) (with Professor W. Michael Reisman of Yale University); International Claims: Their Settlement by Lump Sum Agreements (University of Virginia Press, 2 vols., 1975) (with the late Professor Richard B. Lillich of the University of Virginia); and International Claims: Postwar French Practice (Syracuse University Press, 1971). For Professor Weston's complete bibliography, click “Bibliography” at the top of this page.

Professor Weston is also a member of the editorial boards of several professional journals, including the American Journal of International Law, on whose Board of Editors he now serves as Honorary Editor; the Human Rights Quarterly; Human Rights & Human Welfare, an international journal of critical essays and book notes on major human rights, justice, and welfare issues; the Intergenerational Justice Review, a German-based quarterly of current research and thinking from political science, law, and ethics concerning the rights of future generations; the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment; and Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems.   Additionally, during 1994-2003, he served as Series Editor of the Procedural Aspects of International Law Monograph Series, the oldest continuing international law book series in the United States.

Further, Professor Weston is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science; formerly Counselor to the American Society of International Law which, in 1992-93, he served as Vice-President; and a member of the Board of Directors of the Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute, the Board of Directors of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, the Academic Council of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, and a founding member of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights. Previously he served as an elected “life member” of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, as an elected member of the National Council of the Federation of American Scientists, and as a member of the Advisory Council of the International Human Rights Law Group,  now known as Global Rights.

At Iowa, from 1989 until his formal retirement from full-time teaching in July 1999, Professor Weston served variously and generally simultaneously as Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies, as Chair of The University of Iowa's International and Comparative Law Program (ICLP), and as Faculty Advisor to Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems (TLCP), the Iowa Society of International Law and Affairs, renamed the College of Law International Law Society (ILS), and the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition (with Professor Jonathan Carlson). He also served on the Advisory Council and the International Instruction and Research Programs Committee of The University of Iowa's Office of International Programs. He continues with the ICL Program in a pro bono advisory capacity. During 1998-99, Professor Weston chaired Global Focus: Human Rights '98, a University-wide initiative instituted and coordinated by Professor Weston to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In late 1999, as an outgrowth of that initiative, he led the founding of the UI Center for Human Rights (see above), a multidisciplinary initiative anchored in the UI College of Law since 2013. Presently he serves as lifetime Senior Scholar of the Center.

 In recognition of his many and diverse accomplishments, Professor Weston has been variously honored. Among his most recent honors may be counted the 2012 Courage of Conviction Award of the UI Center for Human Rights and the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws Honoris Causa (LL.D.), conferred upon him by Vermont Law School in 2009; the “Burns H. Weston Annual International Human Rights Prize Essay Competition,” formally established in 2005 following his resignation as Founding Director of the UI Center for Human Rights and in recognition of his lifetime service to international human rights teaching, scholarship, and activism; the State of Iowa Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence (1999); the Iowa City Press Citizen “Person of the Year” Award/Runner-up (1999); the Human Rights Hero Award of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights on behalf of Global Focus: Human Rights '98 (1998); and the International Human Rights Award of the Iowa City Human Rights Commission (1998). In addition, in 1998, he was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (D.H.L.) by Marycrest International University in Davenport, Iowa.

Conversant in French, Professor Weston is widely traveled and has lectured around the world and throughout the United States on many occasions. In 1991, he taught in the Summer Program of Louisiana State University in Aix-en-Provence, France; in 1993 and 2008, he taught in the College of Law’s Summer Program in International and Comparative Law in Arcachon, France; and in 1994-95, as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (one of thirteen nationwide that year), he presented multiple lectures and conducted numerous classes on college and university campuses across the United States. In Spring 2001, he served as Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar and Visiting Professor of Law at Florida State University, and in Fall 2003 he served as The Freeman Foundation Senior Professor of Law at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center of Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). From 2004-2009, he served each Fall Term as Visiting Distinguished Professor of International Law and Policy at the Vermont Law School (VLS), Director of the VLS Human Rights Initiative (HRI), and, as noted above, Director of the VLS  Climate Legacy Initiative (CLI), a joint project with The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Currently he serves as co-Director (with David Bollier of Amherst, MA) of the Common Law Project (CLP), described in detail and available for interactive dialogue at The purpose of the CLP is to explore new forms of governance that can advance a clean and healthy environment by relying upon human rights principles and the social empowerment of commons.

In addition, Professor Weston has participated in numerous human rights fact-finding and conflict mitigation missions abroad, including Cuba, the West Bank and Gaza, Kosovo, and the Republic of Georgia. In 1985, he was a member of the human rights observer delegation that met armed resistance when accompanying then Korean opposition leader (later President of the Republic of Korea) Kim Dae Jung, upon Mr. Kim's return to Seoul from forced exile in the United States.

Professor Weston is a retired member of the Iowa and New York bars. He spends approximately one-third of each year at his second home in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York (his "Shangri-La") and, as well, several months of each year in Sweden, the homeland of his wife, Marta Cullberg Weston, a psychoanalyst and writer. Additionally, he is the proud father of Timothy B. Weston, a professor of Chinese History at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Rebecca B. Weston, a lawyer turned clinical social worker, currently living and working in Missoula, Montana, close to the University of Montana where her husband, Eduardo R. Capulong, is a professor of law. He is proud also of his three stepchildren, each of whom lives and works in Stockholm: Malin (a doctor), Martin (a lawyer), and Johannes (a health sector entrepreneur). At the same time, he boastfully enjoys as often as he can his four grandchildren  Leah Julia Yonemoto-Weston, Elijah Romeo Weston-Capulong,  Emma Rose Yonemoto-Weston; and Isabella (“Isa”) Burns Weston-Capulong; also his five step-grandchildren John Birger Wedinger, Olivia Lampenius Cullberg, Sima Wiernik Cullberg, Joar Wiernik Cullberg, and Cecilia Lampenius Cullberg.

280 Boyd Law Building

BA, Oberlin College, 1956

LLB, Yale Law School, 1961

JSD, Yale Law School, 1970

DHL, Marycrest International University, 1998

LLD, Vermont Law School, 2009