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International Law and Human Rights: The Way Forward

Updated: 2 days ago

We are all responsible for what happens in our world. 

In the intricate tapestry of global affairs, we face a stark reality: amidst a global crisis, fundamental human rights are besieged, as the gravest international crimes are perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. In this tumult, what can be done?

 

The development of international law (including in public international law, international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law) since World War II has been fundamental for averting another world war. It constitutes the universal framework safeguarding individual rights and establishing a rules-based international order (RBIO) that mandates states to uphold principles such as territorial integrity and peaceful conflict resolution.

 

Yet, despite the promise and hope imbued by the post-World War II or ‘never again’ generation, international law is increasingly branded as too weak or even a failure altogether. Many are of the impression that international law is ‘regularly side-lined’ and ‘ignored or depreciated’ when matters of great political and economic importance arise.[1] Whilst most states abide by international law most of the time, outrageous violations by powerful states create the perception that the law lacks ‘compliance pull’, fostering an expectation that states will not abide by their international obligations and an environment where international law is likely to deteriorate.[2]

 

Whilst not unjustified, such a wholly negative narrative fails to capture the full breadth and complexity of international law’s role in shaping global affairs. Beyond the realm of visible failures and shortcomings, there exists a vast network of customary international norms and treaty obligations that underpin the fabric of our RBIO. The invisible but present day-to-day functioning of customary international law and the international treaties that drive global political and diplomatic relationships is too often disregarded. Thanks to the ​Convention on International Civil Aviation, you can enjoy air travel; thanks to international agreements through the WTO, you could enjoy your orange juice this morning; thanks to territorial sovereignty, many of you likely did not wake up in an armed conflict. Further, the language of the law enables leaders to speak of the ‘enemy’ not just as barbarians and killers but as criminals, transgressors of established international standards of conduct.[3] This consensus is paramount not only for establishing liability but also for deterring future violations. Finally, the law’s universality creates ‘the expectation of expectation’ that builds and maintains society. The regularity of state behaviour is what consequently creates stability, makes planning possible, enhances security, spreads the cost of enforcement, and regulates conflict.[4]

 

We must be assiduous in upholding and enforcing these rules. Undermining the value of international law in our RBIO has the dangerous consequence of establishing a world that is too forgiving, one becoming gradually indifferent to gross human rights violations and international conflicts. Otherwise, the direction we are heading will be unimaginably grave: an RBIO driven and enhanced by emotions, military power, inhumanity, and violence without restraint. This is a moment of truth for the integrity of our RBIO.

 

We therefore have an opportunity and a duty to reshape our understanding of our relationship to international law, in order to continue to strengthen its frameworks and address its shortcomings. All states have a legal (and moral) duty to address human rights violations and international crimes, to seek accountability, and to serve justice for victims. This duty, however, does not solely rest with the decision makers. The most powerful catalyst to inspire change is one who is able to draw attention to conflicts and violations, and influence and pressure decision makers to act: the everyday civilian. The civilian that can provoke discussion in their community, the civilian that can vote, the civilian that can protest against non-human rights-abiding corporations and controversial government policies, the civilian that can help refugees coming into their country, the civilian that can support the legitimacy of international courts, the civilian that can support institutions and NGOs exposing the violations and can help spread awareness. That civilian is You

 

In this spirit, I am pleased to present the forthcoming volume, ‘The Human Agenda’. Through an interdisciplinary lens taking in Law, Politics, and Art, this volume draws upon the insights of leading practitioners, judges, politicians, scholars, and artists. It aims to spread awareness and to deepen our understanding of the root causes of conflict and injustice, while also exploring potential pathways towards lasting peace and reconciliation. It further collects interviews and artwork from heroic survivors of human rights abuses, to share their stories and provide a personal understanding of what is at stake for humanity. 

 

Ignorance is a perilous refuge. By awakening to the realities of our world and assuming our role as conscientious stewards, we can compel decision-makers to honour their obligations under international law, safeguarding the promises of peace forged in the aftermath of World War II.

 

It is my hope that, in reading this volume, you not only are able to enhance your understanding of the current imminent threats to our RBIO, but also understand your role in it.

 

We are all responsible for what happens in our world.

 

Nadia Jahnecke

Legal Editor and Founder of ‘The Human Agenda’

 

Acknowledgements:


I wish to express my sincere gratitude to our Editor-in-Chief, Alexander Kardos-Nyheim, whose belief in my vision and steadfast support was instrumental in bringing to life CJLPA’s Special Edition on human rights.


A very special recognition is owed to our Managing Editor, Jack Graveney, without whom this volume would not have become a reality if it were not for his endless devotion in helping me manage the team and getting over 100 articles and interviews across the finish line, both online and in print.


Thank you to our exceptional Legal Researchers, whose passion and commitment to human rights shine through every page of this volume: Nour Kachi, Shahad Alkamas, Aidan Johnson, Anaëlle Drut-Desombre, Solomon Njombai, Sarthak Gupta, Angelina Spilnyk, Abigail Dore, Eleanor Taylor, Kenan Korn, and Alexandra Marcy Hall.


Finally, I want to express my deepest gratitude to all our contributors. Your belief in this mission and your willingness to share invaluable insights, knowledge, and perspectives have made this volume a profound contribution to the discourse on human rights.

 

[1] Gerry Simpson, ‘International Law in Diplomatic History’ in James Crawford and Martti Koskenniemi (eds), The Cambridge Companion to International Law (CUP 2015) 26.

[2] Thomas Franck, Fairness in International Law and Institutions (Clarendon Press 1995) 99.

[3] Vivek Bhatt, ‘A Visible College: Public Engagement with International Law(yers) During the Ukraine Invasion’ (OpinioJuris, 8 March 2022) <https://opiniojuris.org/2022/03/08/a-visible-college-public-engagement-with-international-lawyers-during-the-ukraine-invasion/> accessed 10 April 2024.

[4]  Isabel Hull, A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law During the Great War (Cornell University Press 2014).

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