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2 - International human rights law: the normative framework

Ilias Bantekas
Brunel University
Lutz Oette
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
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The multiple voices making up the field of international human rights are one of its defining characteristics. Diplomats, officials, politicians, social movements, NGOs, academics from various disciplines, commentators and the public at large contribute to debate and practice. They add to, and often complement, the work of (international) lawyers. The interaction of this multitude of actors has stimulated the development of international human rights law. However, it has also increased the scope for misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the law that may be misleading, if not damaging. International human rights law is a normative legal system that has its own rules and methods, which, even if contested, frame the consideration of arising questions. For example, claims that the death penalty is unlawful under international law, while welcome from an advocacy perspective, may be seen as turning what ought to be the law (de lege ferenda) into a statement about what the law is (de lege lata). If such a claim were to be framed as a legal argument, it would have to be developed very carefully with adequate references so as not to risk undermining the (legal) credibility of the person or organisation making it. Such a risk is particularly evident when assertions made – such as that a successor government may not be responsible for the violations committed by the government preceding it (in an NGO report on Iraq) – reveal fundamental misconceptions of international law, in this case the difference between the succession of governments and states.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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