Author’s personal collection (2016)

Two international law giants remembered — Judge James Crawford and Prof. Mochtar Kusumaatmadja: a student’s reflection

C Donny Putranto
5 min readJun 11, 2021


In the span of one week, the international law community of the world mourned. On 31 May 2021, Judge James Crawford passed away. On 6 June 2021, we bid vale to Prof. Dr. Mochtar Kusumaatmadja. After their passing, many have written on these towering figures to commemorate their contributions (e.g. here on Judge Crawford and here on Prof. Kusumaatmadja)

Hoping that it will not be a burden to anyone, as a student of international law, I felt I had to reflect on how their contributions have affected me personally and professionally. This short piece is, therefore, a personal reflection of how two international law giants have influenced the life of a student of law and what I have learned from them.

I warn you, it might be — or not, you decide — a dry ride. Here we go.

As a student of international law who went to any law school around the world, one must have encountered Judge Crawford’s works. As a student of international law who has studied in Indonesia, one must have encountered the scholarly works of Pak Mochtar — as people used to call Prof. Kusumaatmadja in Indonesia.

Unlike others, I was not lucky enough to be directly or personally taught by Judge Crawford or Prof. Kusumaatmadja. However, their views and teachings have certainly influenced my thinking, writing, and understanding of international law. I believe this is a shared experience that all law students from Indonesia possess.

The first time I knew of Prof. Kusumaatmadja’s works was when I took the Public International Law class in my university days. His textbook was one of the two required readings for all law students back then. And it remains one even until now. Of course, his invaluable contribution to the law of the sea — which no need further elaboration — was another tangible pillar on just how significant his influence was to countless legal minds who have since tried following in his steps. Likewise, the insights and critical reading of international law that he offered were significant to how my preliminary understanding of this field of law.

The first time I got “introduced” to Judge Crawford (then Professor Crawford) was when I competed in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Judge Crawford’s publication on the ILC Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts was a key reference for the competition’s purpose and it remains central to my professional life until now.

What have I learned from these two international law giants? Upon several days of reflection, I finally came to these three learning points.

First, to be a great international law expert one shall embrace both the academic and practical sides of this field of law. Second, being an expert on general international law is good, but also focusing on a specific branch of international law would be important. Third, the importance of grounded approach on international law.

With respect to the first point, as is in many fields, it is simply insufficient to only understand the theory. One must also be able to practice or implement the theory. Judge Crawford and Prof. Kusumaatmadja were exemplary in this regard. Both excelled in the letters of international law and, at the same time, they practiced their expertise. Simply put, they walked the talk.

Prof. Kusumaatmadja did this through his service as a leading negotiator for Indonesia on the law of the sea, later on as the country’s justice and foreign minister, co-founded one of the largest law firms in the country, as well as a professor of law at Universitas Padjadjaran. Meanwhile, the then-Prof. Crawford was active as counsel and judge in dozens of international law cases before the International Court of Justice and arbitration panels.

On the second point, which is actually quite straightforward, both figures were each an outstanding expert in their specialization. Prof. Kusumaatmadja specialized in the law of the sea. Judge Crawford’s specialization was on statehood and state responsibility. Both authored primary international law publications in their respective field of law.

It is my impression that their expertise on a specific branch of international law helped translate how they presented international law in general to the public. For instance, if one focuses on international humanitarian law, then one must be able to clearly explain this specific field to anyone; even on the most complex inquiry. Ultimately, it is the law’s function that is most important to the public, not its cosmetic. This brings me to my third and last point.

Prof. Kusumaatmadja and Judge Crawford’s grounded approach on international law is telling. The fact that many, many law students have learned a lot from them means that their views were clear. For me, this is the third learning point from both figures.

The foundation of my understanding on the sources of international law is based on Prof. Kusumaatmadja’s textbook on Introduction to International Law. His writing was direct, concise, and factual. He did not use flowery words, which could be confusing for many. He utilized words that anyone could easily understand.

Prof. Kusumaatmadja once wrote the clear benefit of the archipelagic concept that Indonesia (or any other archipelagic country) would gain, “…with international recognition the land and sea of Nusantara as the physical form of Wawasan Nusantara will no longer experience interference or undermining.” (quoted in Butcher and Elson, 2017, p. 416).

Meanwhile, much of the foundation of my comprehension on the matter of state responsibility rests on Judge Crawford’s scholarly writings. As ILC rapporteur, he compiled the Commission’s report on the Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts — which was then published by the Cambridge University Press. One can easily, and quickly, understand his train of thoughts by reading his works or listening to his words.

Judge Crawford once eloquently remarked on the relevance of international law, “International Law is a law of coordination addressed to human problems and the human problems we have can’t be solved by individual assertions of sovereignty, that’s absolutely clear. Global warming, the ozone layer, these can’t be solved by the United States alone or by the Russian Federation alone or by China alone. They have to be solved by coordination; that means that the apparatus of coordination, which is part provided by international law, is really essential.” (quoted from his interview with Dingle and Bates, 2018, Q #115)

Using this simple grounded approach, reflecting on the needs of the real world, that both Prof. Kusumaatmadja and Judge Crawford had inspired the world’s international law community. I am convinced that their thoughts and opinions will remain influential for the next generations of international law students.

To end this no-longer-short-piece, although Prof. Kusumaatmadja and Judge Crawford no longer walked the earth, their legacy must be preserved. It is not one person’s duty, but every single international law student’s.

Fare thee well, Prof. Kusumaatmadja and Judge Crawford.

Disclaimer: this is the author’s personal view and it does not represent the view of any institutions with which the author is affiliated.



C Donny Putranto

I think therefore I write.