Elisabeth Back Impallomeni – in memoriam

Professor Elisabeth Back Impallomeni passed away on 28 June 2018 at home in her home town Padua, where she spent the most important part of her family and professional life. The funeral took place on 2 July at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Dome of Padua, followed by an academic ceremony at the Palazzo Bo, the historical seat of the University. At these her relatives,friends and colleagues paid her their last respects. I am surely interpreting the sentiments of all members of our scientific community in saying that she was a sincere friend and an esteemed colleague, whom we will miss profoundly. For her interests in outer space, scientific curiosity and longstanding engagement in current working activities, she was a woman of our days, but, at the same time, she had something in her personality coming from the past, embedded with the cultural background of this particular region which formed part of the lost Austrian-Venetian world. Born in Vienna, where she studied and became Doctor Iuris, she married an Italian Roman lawyer, Titta Impallomeni, and moved to Padua where she took a second degree in law. Thus, she acquired the real background of an international lawyer in the full meaning of the word, conserving strong linkages with the Viennese School of International law and its eminent personalities, such as Alfred Verdross, but fully incorporating herself into the Italian school, represented at that time in Padua by distinguished lawyers like Rolando Quadri, a pioneer of space law, and Benedetto Conforti. These are the three names she often mentioned when speaking of her academic affiliations. Then, she completed her polyglot education in several other countries, from the University of Manchester to the Sorbonne in Paris and Harvard Law School. Thereafter,Elisabeth started her academic career in Padua, cultivating several scientific interests, but moving quickly to this specialised field of international law that we call space law. It became her preferred discipline, to which she made relevant contributions in academic teaching and scientific research.

As a professor of international law, Elisabeth Back Impallomeni was a committed teacher, loved by her many students and pupils, always ready, as she was, to give sound recommendations to the young scholars who followed her courses on international law or wanted to pursue their careers in the space law field. She acted not only as a teacher, but also as a mentor. At the same time, Elisabeth was one of the most active members of the space law researchers community. Particular mention must be made of her 1983 monograph on the international legal regime of outer space and celestial bodies (Spazio cosmico e corpi celesti nell’ordinamento internazionale), which was reviewed in 1987 by her long-time friend Prof. Isabella Diederiks-Verschoor, in vol. 34 of the Netherlands International Law Review. In this book, she gave her opinions on several topics of space law, from the distinction between the concepts of res communis omnium and common heritage of humankind, to the issue of the delimitation of outer space and, finally, to the responsibility for outer space activities. Apart from this contribution, she wrote several articles in scientific periodicals and encyclopaedias, and gave presentations at international congresses and conferences, published in the proceedings of such events. Among them I recall her contributions on the sources of space law, the remote sensing legal regime, the geostationary orbit and many others.

But, it is needless to say that one of the most relevant qualities of Elisabeth Back was her uninterrupted participation, as a very active member, in the work of the main associations dealing with outer space law, such as the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL) and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). Elisabeth was a long-time member of the IISL Board of Directors and to IISL Elisabeth dedicated her best energies to promote the further development of space law and the expansion of the rule of law in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. To this end, she joined meetings, colloquia and competitions on juridical aspects of space activities all over the world, prepared reports and cooperated in the drafting of IISL position papers on open issues of space law. Long after her “retirement”, la professoressa continued to work tirelessly on space law. Her participation was not diminished by the need of assistance she faced in the last years as a consequence of her reduced mobility. In this context, she was particularly attached to two activities: serving as judge in the Manfred Lachs Moot Court Competition and chairing the IISL Committee for the I.H.Ph. Diederiks-Verschoor Award for best Paper by a Young Scholar. In 2015, at the 66th International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem, the Board of Directors nominated her as Honorary Director of the IISL, recognizing her long-standing contributions to the development of space law and the role of the IISL in this context.

She was also a prominent Member of the ECSL Board, where she seated uninterruptedly since 2006, never missing to comply with her commitments, from the European Rounds of the Manfred Lachs Moot Competition to the Practitioner’s Forum and the Summer Course on Space Law and Policy, where she lectured until the 2016 edition in Rome. Finally, she was generously involved in many charitable causes and organisations.

We realise now that our beloved friend and colleague Elisabeth Back Impallomeni is no more with us, but we trust in her scientific and human legacy as a continued source of inspiration for all those who knew and loved her.

Sergio Marchisio
IISL Board of Directors