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Top diplomats being trained in cyberspace and international law – University of Reading

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Top diplomats being trained in cyberspace and international law

Release Date 05 June 2020


Diplomats and other key government officials are being trained in how international law applies in cyberspace in a new University of Reading School of Law programme.

The inaugural ‘Executive Course in International Cyber Law’ has been launched virtually and sees 38 government officials from 16 nations across the Americas and the Organization of American States to examine how international law applies in cyberspace.

Sponsored by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and offered through the Organization of American States, the programme brings together participants that include diplomats, military officers, law enforcement personnel, cyber agency members, and other government attorneys, policy makers, and cyber operators.

Professor Mike Schmitt, the director the program and a Professor of International Law at the University of Reading said:

“Countries throughout the world are actively crafting cyber strategies, working to achieve international consensus on cyber norms, and agreeing on confidence building measures designed to ease tensions in cyberspace.  This program is designed to provide key officials the understanding of international law that they need in order to collectively and operate and protect themselves online.”

“The two-week virtual course deals with a wide array of legal subjects, such as sovereignty, jurisdiction, the prohibitions on intervention and the use of force, the law of the sea/air/space, self-defence in cyberspace, and international human rights law online. Because states and criminal groups continue use cyber means to exploit the COVID-19 crisis, special attention is being paid to that subject.”

The Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, Alison August Treppel, said:

“Promoting international law as it relates to cybersecurity is a key component of our work. This course offers participants the opportunity to connect with fellow cyber professionals, thereby expanding their network and enhancing their respective government’s current and future work on cybersecurity.”

UNGGE expert and Head of the Taskforce Cyber at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Carmen Gonsalvessaid:

“It is important to increase the level of knowledge on the application of international law in the cyber domain. This course will hopefully support states in drafting their national position on the application of international law. Clarity on the interpretation of international law will support legal analysis of incidents such as cyber operations emanating from other states.”

Plans to offer it around the world in 2020 were disrupted by pandemic travel restrictions but will recommence once they are lifted. In the meantime, the program has moved entirely online, together with a number of shorter bespoke offerings.

Professor Dominik Zaum, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Reading said:

“As malign states and criminal groups conduct cyber-attacks that exploit the COVID-19 crisis, global understanding of how international law protects medical facilities and public health capabilities during the pandemic is indispensable. 

“We are proud that the University of Reading is working with governments to bolster their capacity to use law in the fight against these acts.”


Government Lawyers 

Professor Schmitt has also conducted a virtual seminar on international cyber law for judge advocates (legal advisers) of the US Army Reserve Legal Command’s 10th Legal Operations Detachment, which is composed of lawyers across the United States who deal with operational law issues. 

The seminar focused on the development of the international law of cyberspace, the prospects for development of that body of law through treaty, and contentious issues, especially with regard to identifying those cyber operations that violate international law and the appropriate legal responses to them. 

The seminar was part of an on-going University of Reading School of Law effort to work with legal and policy practitioners throughout the world who deal with international law issues, including, but not limited to, cyber operations. 

As part of this effort, four US and British military officers are now enrolled as Reading Law postgraduates and the Law School conducts cyber law capacity-building Executive Courses for international officials.

This programme will also run a 3-day virtual workshop for “Women in International Security and Cyberspace” in early July. Over twenty countries will be represented in this workshop that is sponsored by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The same month, a six-day virtual course will be held for Indonesian officials with a cyber portfolio, again sponsored by DFAT.



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