Interpretation in International Law as a Transcultural Project

Andrea Bianchi, Daniel Peat & Matthew Windsor eds, Interpretation in International Law (OUP, Forthcoming)

20 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2014 Last revised: 3 Apr 2014

See all articles by Rene Provost

Rene Provost

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: April 1, 2014


In this paper, I focus on the transcultural nature of interpretation in some areas of international law, a topic which encompasses both institutional and normative dimensions. Much of international law, still today, is centered on the state. While Governments are all different, all states do share in a culture rooted in the idea of sovereignty, such that the transcultural dimensions of these norms is much more limited. International criminal law is one area of international law that stands as radically different in that respect, reflecting the fact that it seeks to alter the behaviour of individuals who may not share a common culture of any kind. What’s more, the culture of those individuals to whom international criminal law is applied is often markedly different from the culture of those by whom these norms are applied, or that of the institutions administering international criminal responsibility. Building on previous work on the application of the doctrine of superior responsibility to a witch-doctor by the Sierra Leone Special Court, I consider the appropriate stance of the SCSL with respect to allegations of cannibalism. I proceed by first analysing how legal interpretation unfolds in the international legal order, focusing on actors, process and object, to then turn to consider the impact of cultural difference on the interpretive exercise. The interpretation of international law and the interpretation of local culture emerge as ineluctably interwoven, with international law acting as a tool and a justification to reinterpret local culture through the prism of legal norms devoid of any local rootedness. The danger is an outcome whereby international law fails to be perceived as legitimate by agents whose behaviour it seeks to regulate and, as a result, fails to trigger the kind of normative engagement required to make law real.

Keywords: interpretation, international law, pluralism, culture, Sierra Leone, cannibalism

Suggested Citation

Provost, René, Interpretation in International Law as a Transcultural Project (April 1, 2014). Andrea Bianchi, Daniel Peat & Matthew Windsor eds, Interpretation in International Law (OUP, Forthcoming). Available at SSRN:

René Provost (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics