Human Rights Norms between Domestic and International Law | Samuel Moyn | August 01, 2016


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Human Rights Norms between Domestic and International Law


Underlying spectrum from non-existent to utopian domestic human rights regime


States bound by customary international law

States ratify international or regional rights treaties


Domestic enforcement by state of its own rights regime (if any)

International enforcement: human rights treaties set up a supranational enforcement regime

Intersection: Domestic enforcement of the international rights regime


No connection, achieved through one or both of:

Non-ratification of treaty

Non-implementation of ratified treaty and non-cognizance of customary norm

Some connection:

International enforcement provides for monitoring domestic regime, with (optional) advice to change it

International enforcement allows individual appeal from domestic political or judicial process to international forum (judicial or other)

International law either viewed as automatically part of domestic law or affirmatively brought into it through domestic implementation process, erasing distinction between international and domestic law

International interpretations of treaties and custom bind domestic actors (judicial or other)


Why would the content of domestic and international rights regimes converge and diverge?

Why would a state with a non-existent to weak domestic rights regime ratify international human rights treaties?

Why would a state with a strong to utopian domestic rights regime ratify (redundant?) international human rights treaties?

Is the best path given finite energy reforming (or creating in the first place) domestic rights regimes, or building international regime? If the latter, is the best path working on strong international enforcement, or seeking “domestication” of international norms even without international enforcement?

Of the possibilities of relating domestic and international law, which are best (and, if more than one, in what combination)?



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August 01, 2016

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Samuel Moyn

Harvard Law School

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