In Memoriam — Ambassador (Professor) Aldo Armando COCCA 1924-2020

Ambassador (Professor) Aldo Armando COCCA:

A Space Law Pioneer beyond the skies (1924-2020)

In Memoriam.

We have the sad duty to announce the passing of Ambassador (Professor) ALDO ARMANDO COCCA on 13 August 2020, in Buenos Aires, at the grand age of 96. Ambassador Cocca was a member of the IISL Board of Directors for many years, and in 1996 he was elected Honorary Director. He published numerous papers in the IISL Proceedings. This outstanding space law expert from Argentina, so endeared to us all, shall be unforgettable for his kindness, excellent teachings and wit.

Professor Cocca was born in Córdoba, Argentina’s second most important city, on 3 September 1924. In 1948 he approached new grounds at the University of Buenos Aires leading to one of the first doctoral thesis on space law, and further developed by him in 1954 at the V International Astronautical Congress in Innsbruck. In his thesis he stated that outer space shall be ‘the conquest of and for Humanity’ (International Astronautical Congress, Innsbruck, 5-7 August 1954, p.289). During these early times he joined his country’s foreign service and was posted in Prague as a first destination where he met a young Vladimir Kopal and with whom he developed a solid friendship.

Back in his country Cocca held important teaching commitments on Air and Space Law at Argentine universities. He also taught at universities abroad, joined noteworthy international organisations, among others, IISL, COSPAR, the International Law Association (ILA), and the  Instituto Iberoamericano de Derecho Aeronáutico y del Espacio y de la Aviación Comercial, holding important positions such as – for many years – Permanent Representative of Argentina to COPUOS and Rapporteur. He also worked for UNHCR. Professor Cocca acted as Régisseur at the Buenos Aires Opera (Teatro Colón) and was head of the ‘Casa de la Cultura’ Foundation (Córdoba).

In 1965 Cocca received the IISL Andrew Haley Gold Medal Award for Space Law. Around that time he published ‘Interplanetary Law’ (‘Derecho Interplanetario’), one of his first books on space matters, followed by many more in Argentina and around the world. During the almost half century of his career Cocca was frequently invited to give talks on developments in space at primary schools in his country, to the delight of the young audiences, particularly at questions time.

Professor Aldo Armando Cocca always showed a commitment, worthy of note, to the development of the law of outer space. From the beginning of the sixties he had shown a special interest in the teaching of space law in Latin America and had taken an active part in the drafting of the five Outer Space Treaties in COPUOS as representative of his country.

December 1966 in Buenos Aires was indeed the right atmosphere for Professor Cocca to become involved in the setting up of the Planetarium and its inaugural scientific colloquium, reflected in ‘The Universe and Society’ (‘El Universo y La Sociedad’, Buenos Aires, 1966, pp.412), a noteworthy book with objectives and purposes valid today which went round the world.

Cocca highlighted that the Colloquium had decided to establish the state of the art of topics based on the teaching of the scientists and the supervision of the legal experts which had, in those days, been in the limelight. Then, viva voce, an exchange of opinions followed by the ‘Conclusions’, in the form of results and achievements addressing, inter alia, questions on the Moon and Celestial Bodies, space vehicles and laboratories in space, meteorites, debris and suggested definitions, and all legal material applicable at that date. The information in the referred book was mostly new, and of prime importance to Spanish-speaking communities around the globe.

Professor Cocca’s determination to making the Planetarium dream come true has rendered a precious service to the development of international law. The building, now over fifty years old, stands tantalising, fully lit up at night and firmly set in its green expanse, resembling a gigantic, irresistible ‘cérisette’, as referred to frequently by Cocca. Mars and Venus, for their part, take turns to shed their luminosity on this fascinating southern hemisphere scenario.

Among the many different contributions and legacies Ambassador Cocca left us over the years let us first pause in August 1968, when the space law feeling triggered by the Planetarium and first moon landing was still in the air.  The International Law Association (ILA) was holding its Fifty-Third Conference in Argentina, at the Buenos Aires University, a setting where space matters were taking pride of place. Professor Cocca, as a local, was invited to host the occasion, together with two other Argentine space law experts and well known IISL members, namely Professors Manuel A.  Ferrer and Oscar Fernández Brital. Professors F. Videla Escalada and E. Basualdo Moine, both of them Argentine Air Law experts, also attended the meeting. 

The ILA Space Law Committee and its world renown specialists, among others, Professors Daan Goedhuis, Eugène Pépin, Bin Cheng, R.H. Mankiewicz and Nicholas Mateesco Matte teamed up with Professor Cocca for nearly two weeks to exhaustively analyse the delimitation issue which, in those days, already appeared unsolvable.

In the meantime, there was agreement on the possibility of some kind of guideline whereby the term ‘outer space’ as mentioned in the 1967 Space Treaty, should be interpreted so as to include all space at and above the lowest perigee achieved by 27 January 1967.

Ambassador Cocca often recalled the vivid image, during the closing session of the 1968 Buenos Aires Conference, of all the specialists sitting round the University classroom deeply concentrated in pushing forward, as best they could, the progressive development of international law. This, he always remarked, had been a gala day for international law.

Professor Cocca’s agenda included frequent academic visits from colleagues abroad, mostly in the sixties and seventies. He was the general rapporteur when in 1972 Professor Eugène Pépin was invited as guest of honour to a Seminar on the Teaching of International Law as Applied to Outer Space and Space Communications (UNESCO/Argentina). Both of them impressed the audience with the clarity of their ideas and the acuteness of their thinking. In later years, and by Professor Cocca’s initiative, Professor Pépin resumed his teaching of international law and air and space law in various Argentine institutions.

Another most welcome visiting scholar in Buenos Aires was Professor Karl-Heinz Böckstiegel. Among the many books published by Cocca’s Foundation is ‘Settlement of Space Law Disputes’ (‘Solución de Controversias en Derecho Espacial’, Córdoba,1981) based on the Round Table opened by Professor Böckstiegel who addressed impeccably the need to encourage compulsory procedures on dispute settlement.

Apart from Air and Space Law Professor Cocca revealed, for many years, a special interest in Spanish history dating from the time of Discovery. One of his Buenos Aires apartments displayed a most interesting collection of armours which he acquired during his diplomatic postings in Eastern Europe.  Cocca very much admired Francisco de Vitoria and wrote books and essays on the topic and got excellent reviews, especially on “V Centenario de los Derechos del Hombre, de los Pueblos, de las Naciones y de la Humanidad”  (Buenos Aires, 1992).

More recently, in November 2012, on the occasion of a Regional Workshop in Buenos Aires organised by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and Argentina, the officers from the Foreign Ministry of Argentina, the Head of the National Committee of Space Activities (CONAE) and Niklas Hedman – in representation of UNOOSA – all made moving speeches expressing their appreciation for Ambassador Cocca’s important legacy in the field of Space Law.

Even more recently, on 8 October 2018, Buenos Aires was celebrating the launch of the first satellite of the SAOCOM Mission, a most challenging and technologically advanced bilateral project between Italy and Argentina, in the initial stages of which Professor Cocca participated. The Mission, a prodigious example of international cooperation between emerging and major space nations, is operating smoothly and becomes a powerful sign of future progress where Ambassador Aldo Armando Cocca had an important part to play. A part which, throughout his career as space lawyer, he always played in the best of spirits.

Professor Dr Maureen Williams

United Kingdom/Argentina