Attorney Allan Gerson talks about accountability with international law and politics

Jeremy Thomas

In a talk at the John B. Connally Center for Justice on Monday, Allan Gerson, chairman of AG International Law, PLLC discussed the deportation of Nazi collaborators in the 1970s, lawsuits against Libya for the Pan American Flight 103 bombing and a lawsuit against Yale University for a valuable painting allegedly acquired unlawfully. 

“There are difficulties between navigating international law, international affairs and the uses of American law as practice in different quadrants,” Gerson said.

He talked about his experiences with international law in three different areas: individual accountability for war crimes, state accountability for the equivalent of war crimes and state accountability in U.S. quadrants, such as in the case of the lawsuit against Yale University.

“The questions about how this painting ever was sold to the United States dealt with actions taken by a foreign government, mainly Russia,” Gerson said. “Yale invoked the Act of State Doctrine to prevent a U.S. court from looking at the circumstances involving the taking and the sale of the painting, even though there was no objection from Russia itself.”

Austin resident Harvey Burg said finding where accountability lies can only be approached on a case-by-case basis.

“I think the speaker’s point was that, by immediately demanding accountability, you draw rigged lines, and, if your objective is to gain international cooperation and you accuse [a country] as being an aggressor [against another country], then you may create a situation in which there is no flexibility to negotiate results,” Burg said. “I would argue that in some instances that works, but, in other instances, it is fair to ask whether the failure to demand accountability permits unlawful aggressive behavior to continue.”

Gerson’s talk was presented by The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Gerson said Strauss, who died Wednesday at the age of 95, successfully bridged together law and international relations. During her introduction of Gerson, Ashley Moran, associate at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, said she believed Strauss was a great public servant and a Texas legend.

“The legacy he leaves behind gives us all something to emulate,” she said. “His life and legacy really embodied all of those fields in private sector, public service and academia and something we strive to live up to at the Strauss Center.”