Overlegalizing Human Rights: International Relations Theory and the Commonwealth Caribbean Backlash Against Human Rights Regimes

81 Pages Posted: 20 May 2002  

Laurence R. Helfer

Duke University School of Law; iCourts: Center of Excellence for International Courts

Abstract

This article raises the intriguing claim that international law can be overlegalized. Overlegalization occurs where a treaty's substantive rules or its review procedures are too constraining of sovereignty, causing governments to engage in acts of non-compliance or even to denounce the treaty. The concept of legalization and its potential excesses, although unfamiliar to many legal scholars, has begun to be explored by international relations theorists analyzing the effects of legal rules in changing state behavior.

This article bridges the gap between international legal scholarship and international relations theory by exploring a recent case study of overlegalization. It seeks to understand why, in the late 1990s, three Commonwealth Caribbean governments denounced human rights treaties and withdrew from the jurisdiction of international tribunals. I refer to these events as the Caribbean backlash against human rights regimes.

My study of this backlash has two objectives. The first is to show how overlegalizing human rights can lead even liberal democracies to reconsider their commitment to international institutions that protect those rights. The second objective is to assess three competing international relations theories that seek to explain the conditions under which states comply with their treaty commitments. To provide a more persuasive analysis of these issues, the article includes empirical data analyzing changes in the filing and review of international human rights petitions against Caribbean governments during the 1990s.

Suggested Citation

Helfer, Laurence R., Overlegalizing Human Rights: International Relations Theory and the Commonwealth Caribbean Backlash Against Human Rights Regimes. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 102, November 2002; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 06-05; Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2002-13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=310477

Laurence R. Helfer (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Dr.
Box 90360
Durham, NC 27708
United States
+1-919-613-8573 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://law.duke.edu/fac/helfer/

iCourts: Center of Excellence for International Courts ( email )

Studiestraede 6
Copenhagen, DK-1455
Denmark

HOME PAGE: http://jura.ku.dk/icourts/news/laurence-r-helfer/

Paper statistics

Downloads
495
Rank
44,807
Abstract Views
3,602