The Politics of Justice: From a Human Rights Revolution to Global Justice?
More than twenty years ago, Martti Koskenniemi (1990) published a ground-breaking article in the inaugural issue of the European Journal of International Law, entitled 'The Politics of International Law'. Koskenniemi critiqued the liberal, normative tendency that set the rule of law above a serious engagement with politics. Cautioning against an over-reliance on legal certainty, Koskenniemi anticipated that lawyers would be obliged to venture into other disciplines, including politics, sociology and economics.
Indeed, in the twenty years that passed since Koskenniemi’s article was published, substantial developments have taken place both in law and in practice. Global governance expanded, among others through the development of international norms and institutions relevant to human rights. Michael Ignatieff (1999) referred to those developments as a (human) ‘rights revolution’, with juridical, advocacy and enforcement dimensions. However, the efforts to universalize human rights have limits if they are not consistent with the political interests of powerful states. In addition it could be argued that the human rights revolution of the 20th century has been overtaken by far greater challenges of securing global justice. These challenges include the inability of international institutions to anticipate or adequately respond to the global economic crisis, stagnated peacemaking efforts that have so far resisted legal interventions, United Nations institutions that are in great need of reform, efforts to address poverty on a global scale and even global climate change. The implications of all of this for lawyers and legal institutions urgently need further analysis. This should also compel all who are engaged with the law to heed Koskenniemi’s early warning that we engage with other sources of knowledge, particularly in addressing global issues, which are often highly contested.
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