Portrait of a researcher - archive

The principle of public access to official records and the laws of war –  two research interests for Inger Österdahl

Inger Österdahl, professor of public international law, pursues research encompassing several fields where the drawing of borders has become more complex in an ever more international arena with new digital modes of communication.

Developments and transformations in public international law fascinate Professor Inger Österdahl. Public international law has gone from being a legal system involving states to something that permeates more and more of national law.

At the same time the distinction between international and national is gradually being dissolved. Laws are created internationally, and countries have to subsequently adapt them to their respective national legislation, as best they can.

– Territorial boundaries are becoming less important as legal delimiters. In this dramatically and rapidly changing international landscape, I am currently interested in two things. One of these research interests is the wellbeing of the principle of public access to official documents, says Inger Österdahl, who has been granted a so-called programme professorship for the 2013-2016 period to focus on this principle of public access.

The importance of the principle of public access to official documents hardly needs to be defended in a Swedish context. However, when this principle of public access encounters EU law, a great deal of persuasive argumentation is need for Sweden to be able to retain its high degree of openness in the face of stronger protections for private life and more secrecy in public administration in general. Even at home privacy problems arise when the new information technology enables (ab)uses of the principle of public access that far exceed the old days of “paper”.

– The internationalisation of public administration is also causing previously national issues to wind up in the domains of diplomacy and foreign secrecy, says Inger Österdahl, who goes on:

– There were fears regarding the effects on the principle of public access when Sweden joined the EU, and I am now investigating to what extent these fears were justified.

In September 2014, together with her colleagues Professor Jane Reichel and Associate Professor Anna-Sara Lind at the Faculty of Law, Inger Österdahl is arranging an international workshop for specially invited researchers on the theme of “Freedom of Speech, the Internet, Privacy and Democracy”.

The second interest reflected in Inger Österdahl’s research has to do with the laws of war and how international peacekeeping forces fit into a legal system that was created for traditional national armies. Do peacekeeping troops act under or outside of the laws of war?

For example, what happens if peacekeeping forces become involved in outright battles, which is becoming more and more common?

– What legal status do “peacekeeping” but actively fighting troops have? Are peacekeeping forces parties to the conflict? On whose behalf – the UN’s? Are the countries that provide the troops for peacekeeping missions parties to a conflict that might arise? It is not unusual for peacekeeping forces to commit various kinds of injustices and thereby violate the laws of war during their mission, but how, where and by whom should they be held accountable, wonders Inger Österdahl.

The demand for peacekeeping missions is steadily rising, and the situations in which peacekeeping troops are supposed to serve seem to be ever more complicated.

– Sometimes legal issues may seem technical, but they are often highly charged politically, which makes them controversial and intriguing, concludes Inger Österdahl.