Individuals have long occupied a precarious position within international law. Historically, conceived as the relation between states, international law rarely saw a need to consider individual claims; it was, instead, the role of states to bring claims on behalf of their nationals. As international law has become increasingly fragmented, however, globalization has thrust the individual onto the international legal plane.
Within this landscape, we briefly consider individuals’ claims across three separate international regimes: (i) the International Court of Justice, (ii) investment treaties, and (iii) the World Trade Organization. We find that barriers for individuals’ recognition as rights holders persist across each. First, jurisdictional barriers remain fundamentally problematic for recognizing individuals’ claims. Second, the longstanding focus on treaty interpretation techniques has yielded little, if any, demonstrable impact on recognizing individuals’ rights. Third, mere reliance on reflecting human rights values, rather than specific and concrete structural reforms, has proven incompatible with realizing individuals’ rights within these three systems.
Individuals qua rights holders have, rather acutely, recently experienced deeply troubling human rights violations on several fronts. Fundamentally, international law must protect human rights. This moment invites us to consider the systems on the international legal plane for individuals to seek such remedy and what barriers must be addressed to further such efforts.