Obituary: Professor Grigory Tunkin

Grigory Ivanovich Tunkin, diplomat and international lawyer: born Arkhangelsk region, Russia 13 October 1906; diplomat 1939-65; charge d'affaires, Soviet Embassy in Ottawa 1942-44; Professor of International Law, Moscow University 1965-93; married (one son); died Moscow 23 August 1993.

Grigory Tunkin personified an era in international law. For decades he was an architect and a prominent advocate of the peaceful co-existence between East and West.

Tunkin was born in 1906 in the far north of Russia into an Arkhangelsk peasant family. Like his famous countryman Mikhailo Lomonosov, Tunkin left for Moscow to study sciences. Though eventually he became the leading international lawyer in the Soviet Union, Tunkin's interests were always much wider. He wrote his first dissertation on the history of law of the ancient world, spoke many languages fluently and was even good at mathematics.

For 13 years he headed the Legal Department of the Foreign Ministry of the Soviet Union. From 1957 to 1966 he was a member, and in 1961 President, of the United Nations International Law Commission. He led Soviet delegations to international conferences such as the first and second UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea (1958, 1960) and the Vienna Conference on Diplomatic Relations (1961).

But Tunkin was never merely a practitioner in international law. He published nine books, all of which were translated, and wrote more than 250 articles and essays. In 1965 he was forced to leave the Foreign Ministry, a place where good lawyers were often a nuisance for political decision-makers. He then entered academic life as Professor of International Law at Moscow University. He became a member of the Curatorium of the Hague Academy of International Law and of the Institut de droit international and received many foreign honours. In 1957 he founded the Soviet (now Russian) Association of International Law and until his death remained its President.

Like most interesting Russian writers and poets of the Soviet period who started their careers after Stalin's death, Tunkin became prominent as an international lawyer during Khrushchev's 'thaw'. Because of his official position he often had to defend the indefensible and justify the unjustifiable, but he managed not to become an outright apologist of all the Soviet Union's foreign policy actions.

Even his predilection for theoretical and sometimes abstract issues of international law was due, not only to his natural ability to make generalisations out of individual events and processes, but also to the fact that writing on politically sensitive issues would have often led either to an outright apology for Soviet foreign policy - or to Siberia.

Privately Tunkin often spoke of those who had made their careers mindlessly advocating whatever the Soviet Union did: they were not jurists, they were Marxists. For his numerous students he was a window to the larger world. In his personal library they could easily find and borrow books and journals on international law and politics, which were prohibited for general distribution. If one takes away a layer (sometimes rather a thick one, it is true) of Marxist phraseology in his works, one can still find a solid analysis of how international law is made and how it functions. His talent, diligence, integrity and conscientiousness outweighed restrictions imposed by the social environment in which he lived and worked. Now, when Russia is trying desperately to find its new place in the international system, it is especially in need of people of Grigory Tunkin's stature, of his talent and integrity.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam