Visiting Scholar Dr Philippe Karpe at the Bristol Law School

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Written by Dr Noelle Quenivet

Between 10 February and 10 March 2018 the Centre for Applied Legal Research hosted Dr Philippe Karpe as Visiting Scholar. Dr Philippe Karpe is a senior legal researcher and international expert working for CIRAD, a French agricultural research and international cooperation state organization working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions. Worldwide there are 850 CIRAD researchers assigned in 40 countries involved in an array of projects. Dr Karpe is currently posted in Nairobi, Kenya.

Invited by the International Law and Human Rights Unit and the Environmental Law Research Unit it was a pleasure to have Dr Karpe with us as he took part in a wide range of teaching and scholarly activities offered by the Bristol Law School whilst also pursuing his own research on indigenous people and the management of natural resources. By education Dr Karpe is a public international lawyer who studied at the universities of Nancy, Paris 10 and Strasbourg in France and holds a ‘habilitation à la direction de recherche’ (Accreditation to supervise research,) a French post-doctoral degree allowing him to supervise PhD students. Besides supervising PhD candidates at CIRAD he also teaches at the universities of Strasbourg (France) and Hokkaido (Japan). The bulk of his work however consists in planning and running projects with and for international organisations (eg United Nations Development Programme-UNDP, World Bank), NGOs (eg Rainforest Foundation Norway, Organisation des Nations Autochtones de Guyane-ONAG) and other stakeholders applying his expertise on governance and rule of law, including indigenous peoples’ rights (general and particular rights, especially land rights, forest’s and carbon’s rights, forest users’ rights, women’s rights), socio-environmental safeguards, sustainable forest management, rural and forest land tenure (including for the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance on Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security-VGGT), participative management of lands (including the use of artificial intelligence), participative mapping, institutional arrangements and stakeholder commitments (civil society, forest communities, etc.).

Dr Karpe led workshops on three modules (‘Natural Resources’, ‘Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility’ and ‘European Environmental Law and Policy’) offered on our LLM programmes. In each of these modules he shared with the students his extensive knowledge and practical expertise in the relevant fields. In particular he brought law to life by using concrete legal problems he had been confronted with in his own field work. For example in the module ‘Natural Resources’ led by Prof Jona Razzaque Dr Karpe produced real forest legal texts that were enacted by regional, national and local public authorities. The students could thus see how forests are protected (or not). This undoubtedly allowed the students to understand better the practical applicability and application of the law as well as its (sometimes unintended) consequences on local populations. In the module ‘Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility’ the students were asked to engage in a discussion on ethical aspects of activities carried out by multinational enterprises using real contracts that were agreed upon between indigenous people and organisations. Passionate discussions in this workshop run by Dr Karpe and Dr Sabine Hassler on for example the protection of traditional knowledge in India and the protection of the intellectual property rights of the indigenous peoples ensued. This inquisitive and practice-oriented type of engaging with the students was again displayed in the workshop on the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the module ‘European Environmental Law and Policy’. Together with the module leader, Christian Dadomo, Dr Karpe challenged the students to analyse the current CAP reform and its interface with the environment and, more largely, the future shape of the society. He notably discussed with the students the negative and positive connections between agriculture, the society and the environment (eg pollution, deforestation, drying up of rivers, etc) and how the reform of the CAP deals with these issues. Dr Karpe’s visit to UWE was no doubt an asset to further nurture our practice-led and student-centred teaching culture on the LLM programme at UWE.

Throughout his stay at UWE Dr Karpe also took the opportunity to attend a number of external engagement events organised by the units of the CALR such as the Brexit and Corruption talk by Dr Lorenzo Pasculli and the Brexit and Trade Relations panel discussion. As a scholar working often far away from European legal issues he particularly enjoyed this insight into one of the most commonly debated issue in the UK: the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. In this context, he sincerely enjoyed the great variety and quality of the different UWE’s opportunities to develop and enrich the knowledge on many scientific and political vital present concerns.

Dr Karpe had the opportunity to deepen his present academic research especially on Harmony with Nature, the Commons, the indigenous peoples and the farmers by collecting many references and academic articles on the UWE’s virtual library and by daily discussions with colleagues on a variety of topics, some of them relating to research methods and methodology (eg epistemology, social-legal studies and critical legal studies). Furthermore his stay at UWE gave him the opportunity to consider some new academic concerns such as conflict, war and the humanitarian legal framework.

On two occasions Dr Karpe presented his work to UWE staff and students. At a first event he shared with us his practice-based research and at a second reflected upon his work as a lawyer in the field. A roundtable on ‘The Future of the Commons’ was organised on 28 February 2018 to discuss the definition of the concept of the ‘Commons’ and develop the ‘Commons Thinking’. Dr Karpe’s intervention focused on his own experience of the commons in the African context. For example he was once confronted with what appeared to be an odd situation in a village. The local population did not seem to be related or linked, the concept of society did not seem to apply either and it appeared that each person was working for him/herself. A positive, classic lawyer would have undoubtedly failed to realise that there was something beyond that and that in fact these individuals were connected by a common, shared ‘space’. Dr Karpe then questioned whether the concept of the commons was an answer to this practical/technical problem which could be turned into a political concern. He posited that current values do not conform to aspirations of justice and that contemporary laws do not help support, protect and promote the life of individuals who live in such a situation. Yet, as a lawyer, his job is to establish justice between people and to find solutions to concrete technical as well as political problems. Thus in his view the concept of the Commons appear to be the most suitable tool. However, when trying to write the law of the Commons the lawyer faces the harsh reality of having to acknowledge that law simply is not the most appropriate tool. For example, law is usually split in different areas such as contract law, family law, property law, etc and yet the Commons transcend these separations. Also the Commons are a ‘space for development’ as they create opportunities for changes and evolution. This all makes it difficult to freeze the Commons into law. Dr Karpe then argued that for him it was crucial that human rights be at the centre of all these activities. Law should be created around human rights. He also challenged the vertical relationship of law whereby constitutional law sits at the top of the hierarchy of any national legal system. Whilst he admitted that this might sound revolutionary as lawyers struggle to understand law in anything but hierarchical terms and categories he emphasised that only a horizontal understanding of the law could avoid corrupting the Commons. As he explained his support for the Commons he however warned that the concept of the Commons might in specific contexts be used as a new form of colonialism enabling State and organisations, for example to deny rights to indigenous people on the basis that under the principle of non-discrimination and shared access to resources no special rights should be given to them.

Last but certainly not least Dr Karpe gave a talk entitled ‘Has the Wandering Lawyer Reached his Destination? – The Adventures of a Lawyer Working in the Field’ which gave him the opportunity to reflect on his work. It was an enlightening talk as Dr Karpe shared with us over 25 years of research in Cameroon, the Central Republic of Africa, Madagascar, Democratic Republic in Congo, Gabon, etc. He kicked off this presentation by asking ‘What am I? What is my purpose as a lawyer?’. Looking at the type of jobs he usually carries out he acknowledged that his work tends to touch upon a range of topics (eg weddings, contracts, etc) though it does focus on forestry. Yet, as a human being he questions what his real role is. For him, he should be promoting justice and more specifically social justice. As a result he does not question the abstract internal coherence of the texts, the content of texts or their effectiveness and efficiency as such. Rather, these are only steps in this research work. The basic research question is ‘under which conditions may the lawyer contribute to improving the living conditions of the local population?’. The objective is thus to understand how law can contribute to improving the living conditions and ensure the protection of a certain idea of a community of life. For this, four assumptions – in the meantime, he challenged them –  must be made: 1) laws and rules may contribute to social change and lawyers are thus useful; 2) laws and rules have a political function; 3) there is a community of life and 4) the function of laws and rules is to guarantee social peace. Likewise Dr Karpe conceded that there were a number of challenges: 1) working with disadvantageous groups such as indigenous people, rural women, etc; 2) the status of users’ rights in developing countries and 3) the status of peasants. All these challenges relate to various aspects of vulnerability and deprivation of rights. With this in mind the lawyer must think about how he can have a positive impact on society. In Dr Karpe’s eyes the most suitable way to understand societies and to then be in a position to support them is to conduct extensive research in the field. For example this means using involved, immersed and applied research techniques so that a concrete and continuous contact with the relevant people can be established. Closer to the problem one can feel it. Dr Karpe also stressed that the nature of the field obliges all actors to adopt an interdisciplinary approach and so he works with economists, anthropologists, biologists, pharmacologists, etc, bearing in mind that each person brings his/her own views and perceptions of the situation and that all these views as well as methodologies need to be integrated into one’s work. Does that mean that the lawyer disappears? As Dr Karpe stressed he remains a positive lawyer (one that is trying to find the best solution to a problem that affects people), a humanist (there is no doubt a need for empathy and humility in these circumstances) and a ‘questionnaire’ (a person who asks questions) and thus a ‘wandering lawyer’. In his opinion this ‘wandering lawyer’ has a fundamental political and moral obligation to remember, think, defend and realise the key destiny of a lawyer: social justice. As a result he/she must revise his/her vision of the law, its essence, substance and form. Four main research themes derive from this stance towards law and the role of the lawyer: 1) the commons, the harmony between nature, humanity and values (justice); 2) the nature and the content of the law (juridicity); 3) the tools for implementing the law and 4) the methodologies of knowledge of law. Dr Karpe presented some of the results of his reflection, explaining that the law should not be in the form of specific provisions, that the new ‘Common Law’ should correspond to a right of communion, a transcendental right and that the new Common Law must correspond to an idea, that of a community of life. Under the Common Law individuals enjoy the same rights and there is no hierarchy of rights. That being established, Dr Karpe questioned the way law is created, articulating the idea that law is often crafted by a certain type of persons for a certain type of person and for a specific objective and that consequently law may not be really that ‘common’ in fact.

As Dr Karpe left UWE he had made contact with many colleagues in the Bristol Law School and hoped to be able to involve these colleagues in his work. He proposed to establish an opened think-thank on the Commons, the Wandering Lawyer, Law and the Juridicity, named: “the Rainbow Team”. Discussions were also had about future collaboration notably in the form of common projects relating to the protection of the environment, biodiversity and conflict. It was with regret that we had to let Dr Karpe go back to his work as it was such a pleasure to talk to him on a variety of topics.