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Theater of International Justice

Jessie Allen

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law


Creighton International & Comparative Law Journal, Vol. 3, p. 121, 2012
U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-04

In this essay I defend international human rights tribunals against the charge that they are not “real” courts (with sovereign force behind them) by considering the proceedings in these courts as a kind of theatrical performance. Looking at human rights courts as theater might at first seem to validate the view that they produce only an illusory “show” of justice. To the contrary, I argue that self-consciously theatrical performances are what give these courts the potential to enact real justice. I do not mean only that human rights tribunals’ dramatic public hearings make injustice visible and bring together a community committed to building human rights. My claim goes more directly to the issue of enforcement. The essay focuses on a hearing of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I argue that, as a performance, the hearing is aimed at a particular audience effect that is characteristic of all court performances, namely, generating government enforcement. To support this claim, I revisit Robert Cover’s famous essay, Violence and the Word. I see the charge that human rights courts are unreal because they lack enforcement power as the mirror image of Cover’s charge that domestic courts are engaged in creating an illusion of force-free justice. In these terms, my essay looks to see how the Inter-American Court performs the characteristic business of all courts — transforming its words into deeds of governmental force.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: International courts, international law, human rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, International criminal justice, Law and performance, Law and culture, jurisprudence, judicial decisionmaking, public courts, theater of justice, performance

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Date posted: February 25, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Allen, Jessie, Theater of International Justice (2012). Creighton International & Comparative Law Journal, Vol. 3, p. 121, 2012; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2212733

Contact Information

Jessie Allen (Contact Author)
University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )
3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-624-2175 (Phone)
412-648-2649 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.pitt.edu/people/jessie-allen

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