Human Rights Proxy Wars

43 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2017

See all articles by Johanna Kalb

Johanna Kalb

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law; New York University (NYU) - Brennan Center for Justice

Date Written: December 3, 2016


In February 2014, Uganda became the latest in a series of African countries to enact harsh anti-gay legislation. American conservative advocacy groups played a significant and well-publicized role in crafting and building support for this legislation. A large literature documents cases in which progressive transnational networks of advocates have been able to take advantage of the mechanisms of acculturation to promote domestic and global change. Over the last two decades, however, new international networks have emerged that are not dedicated to advancing the international rights agenda. Rather than linking transnational and national allies to promote human rights compliance, these organizations focus on helping domestic partners build up domestic resistance to shifting transnational norms. Domestically, these groups have raised and relied upon arguments based on American sovereignty and democracy in order to undermine the legitimacy of the international human rights regime and increase the cost to American judges and policymakers of invoking international and comparative law. Internationally, conservative legal activists and their network partners in churches, governments, and the NGO sector have adopted strategies that mimic those deployed in the U.S., working to erode the credibility of U.N. institutions and their interpretation of the human right treaties and to reshape national and subnational legal regimes to make them more resistant to influence by international human rights norms. This Article documents and describes the emergence of these networks, and examines their impact on both the theory and practice of transnational human rights advocacy.

Keywords: international law, human rights, transnational advocacy networks

Suggested Citation

Kalb, Johanna, Human Rights Proxy Wars (December 3, 2016). 13 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 53 (2017), Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Research Paper No. 2017-04, Available at SSRN:

Johanna Kalb (Contact Author)

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law ( email )

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Campus Box 901
New Orleans, LA 70118
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New York University (NYU) - Brennan Center for Justice ( email )

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