New Book Edited by AUWCL Professors Discusses the Role of International Law in Social Change

The role of international in advocating for social change. The title of the book and its cover

AUWCL Professor David Hunter and Professor Emeritus Daniel Bradlow recently edited a book titled Advocating Social Change through International Law, published in December 2019 by Brill. The book is structured in twelve chapters. The first two chapters discuss the distinction between hard and soft law. The following nine chapters present case studies on the use of international legal instruments to engineer social change, three of which relate to human rights and humanitarian law, three to environmental and public health, two to the financial sector, and one to enforcement mechanisms. The final chapter summarizes the book’s overall conclusions.

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the book is the issue of the interaction between international law and the so-called international soft law. The editors explain that there is a close connection between these two forms of regulation. Some of the chapters provide good case studies on this interaction, for instance those on environmental and public health.

The editors also point out that non-state actors play an important role in the development of international law as they follow a pragmatic approach to current international challenges, such as climate change, human rights, and international trade. Their goal is to solve problems, regardless of the normative character of the standards that may be applied. This gives non-state actors two “advantages” over states: (a) they can have a much more limited agenda that allows them to focus more energy on specific, important outcomes; and (b) they are less concerned about the normative character of the standards they apply, and instead concentrate on effective social change.

The chapter on the Inter-American Human Rights System is written by AUWCL Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law Claudio Grossman. The chapter presents an interesting case study on how the effective application of international legal instruments such as the American Convention on Human Rights has generated social change in the Americas with regard to some of the most pressing human rights issues.

The chapter on the negotiations of the global climate regime in the 2015 Paris Agreement, authored by AUWCL Professor David Hunter, is another noteworthy contribution to this edited volume. The author explains the trade-off between binding international commitments in international treaties and the promotion of a wider participation by more states through a soft-law approach. In the case of the Paris Agreement, the trade-off led to a combination between a general, binding normative framework and unilateral commitments by states parties with regard to the degree of greenhouse gas reduction.

As the title demonstrates, this book is concerned with international law as an instrument for social change. In other words, the authors consider that international law is a means to aspire for something beyond mere regulation of relations between states through rules and norms. Instead, they ask what role international law plays in the advancement of more just and sustainable global societies. Given the political complexities of states, it is no wonder that the authors heavily rely on the non-state actors’ contribution to the development of (hard and soft) law, as only this pressure may be able to take account of our contemporary social and environmental needs globally.