14 Mar 14 Mar
00:00

Pick Our Brains

Prof. Başak Çalı and Prof. Laurence R. Helfer - Title: Rethinking Human Rights Treaty Withdrawals

The Pick our Brains sessions of the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights are for both PhD students and more senior members of our Centre and members of other research centres and universities. These sessions are intended as a mode of intellectual stimulation and exchange, or to potentially promote collaborations within/outside the Centre. The sessions are also designed as an opportunity to get feedback on ongoing/upcoming research, showcase recent research and events at which you presented, as well as to enable an exchange of scholarly ideas. Each session contains a short presentation and a lively debate. A small lunch is provided as well. 

These sessions will take place physically and online. The Zoom link for the online sessions will be distributed later. 

On 14 March our speakers are Prof. Başak Çalı (Hertie School, Oxford University) and Prof.  Laurence R. Helfer (Duke University, University of Copenhagen). Time: 13.30-15.00hrs. 

Abstract:
Withdrawals from human rights treaties and declarations accepting the jurisdiction of international courts and treaty bodies are on the rise across the globe. These withdrawals are governed by general international rules that confer wide discretion on executive branch officials to end a state’s status as a party. These rules are normatively and practically problematic for human rights instruments, the overarching purpose of which is to protect individuals, who have no say about whether, why, how, or when their internationally guaranteed rights are taken away.

This paper argues for replacing these permissive and sovereignty-oriented rules with a process-based lex specialis approach that limits—but does not eliminate—states’ freedom to exit. We first review the lex generalis of unilateral treaty withdrawals, describing its rules and doctrines and the rationales that support it. We then discuss recent and historical examples to highlight the many shortcomings of this approach for international human rights instruments.

Our proposal to progressively develop international law proceeds in three parts. We first identify other specialized legal doctrines that apply to human rights treaties, focusing on the flipside of withdrawals—reservations—which have evolved to limit state discretion. We then explain how a process-based approach enhances the opportunities for all affected actors—national legislatures and courts, individuals and NGOs, other states parties, and international monitoring bodies—to scrutinize the justifications for withdrawal. The goal of this process is to engage in a dialogue with executive officials about the reasons for exit, the consequences of leaving the treaty, and the state’s continuing human rights obligations under other treaties, customary law, and jus cogens. The third part of our proposal discusses implementation. We identify a range of domestic and international actors that can give effect to different elements of lex specialis as disputes relating to withdrawals arise. The paper’s final section responds to four potential counterarguments to our proposal: lack of foundation in positive law, impermissible blending of international and domestic law, bad legal policy, and insufficient constraints on authoritarian regimes. 

A draft paper will be circulated in advance.

 

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