Ethiopia: Sir Arthur Watts Passes Away
Sir Arthur Watts, appointed by Ethiopia as member of the
Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission that arbitrated the border
dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia died on November 16 aged 76. An
international lawyer, diplomat and arbitrator; much of his career was
spent at the Foreign Office, to which he was the Legal Adviser from
1987 to 1991.
By its very nature Watts's work was inconspicuous to the
wider public; but he made a significant contribution in a number of
From 1959 to 1962 he was in Cairo, based at the Property
Commission (later reincarnated as the British embassy), where he had
to grapple with the consequences of the massive nationalisation by
President Nasser of British property interests in Egypt.
Watts played an important part in administering the
settlement under which the Egyptians eventually paid some £27.5
million compensation (a substantial sum in those days).
After Britain entered the EEC in 1973 Watts spent four
years helping to establish the framework for Britain's relations with
the various community bodies in Brussels.
After five years as deputy legal adviser at the Foreign
Office, in 1987 Watts graduated to the top job, in which he was the
fount of legal advice for the diplomatic service. His retirement in
1991, at the age of 60, heralded a period, which continued until his
death, in which he was much in demand internationally as an advocate
He had the distinction of becoming the first British
advocate to be retained by the French government; when France was
involved in a dispute with New Zealand and Australia over nuclear
testing in the Pacific, Watts appeared on her behalf at the
International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 1995. Other
nations he represented at the ICJ included Nigeria, Indonesia, the
Slovak Republic, Colombia, Ukraine and Jordan.
Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s
it became necessary for its constituent states to agree on how to
share out the assets, and meet the liabilities, of the old
The mediator between the disputing parties was Watts,
and he played the essential role in reaching the settlements
achieved; it was a difficult task, and one that occupied him for five
years from 1996.
Arthur Desmond Watts was born on November 14 1931, the
only son of an Army officer, and was educated at Haileybury and the
Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
He read Economics and Law at Downing College, Cambridge;
as a post-graduate he was awarded the university's Whewell
Scholarship in International Law. In 1957, the year after he had
joined the Foreign Office as a legal assistant, he was called to the
Bar by Gray's Inn. He took Silk in 1988.
In later life Watts continued to practise from his
chambers at 20 Essex Street. He arbitrated in disputes between
Eritrea and Ethiopia; Malaysia and Singapore; the United Kingdom and
Ireland; and Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
Commissioners (from left to right): Sir Arthur Watts, KCMG QC;
Professor W. Michael Reisman; Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, CBE QC; His
Excellency Prince Bola Adesumbo Ajibola; Judge Stephen M. Schwebel.
He also mediated or adjudicated in various cases
involving international foreign investment. At the time of his death
he was serving as president of an arbitration tribunal hearing a
dispute, arising out of a state's currency collapse, between that
state and a private party with whom there was a bilateral investment
Over the past 45 years he had served on many British
negotiating teams abroad, dealing with a host of matters from
Antarctic mineral resources to human rights.
Watts was appointed CMG in 1977 and KCMG in 1989.
Among his publications was Oppenheim's International Law
(volume one, 9th edition, with Sir Robert Jennings, 1992), which
remains the undisputed authority in the field.
He also published Legal Effects of War (4th edition,
with Lord McNair, 1966); Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International
Law (with C and A Parry and J Grant, 1986); International Law and the
Antarctic Treaty System (1992); Self-Determination and
Self-Administration, (with WF Danspeckgruber, 1997); and The
International Law Commission 1949-1998 (three volumes, 1999-2000).
Watts was much liked and respected throughout the
profession. He was president of the British branch of the
International Law Association from 1992 to 1998. In 1997 he was
elected a member of the Institut de Droit International.
An accomplished cricketer, Watts won his county cap for
Shropshire in 1955. In 1985 he organised a cricket match at the South
Pole, assembling two teams from nationals of the various states with
a stake in Antarctica. Thus the players included Argentines, Chileans
and Americans; his one regret was that he failed to secure the
services of the editors of Wisden.
He married, in 1957, Iris Collier, an author of romantic
thrillers and crime fiction, with whom he had a son and a daughter.
He and his wife had separated, but they never divorced and remained
on friendly terms. She and their children survive him, as does his
companion of recent years, Cecilia Gillette. telegraph.co.uk