Resisting the Merger and Acquisition of Human Rights by Trade Law: A Reply to Petersmann

41 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2002

See all articles by Philip Alston

Philip Alston

New York University School of Law

Date Written: August 2002


Petersmann's proposal for the enforcement of human rights through the WTO is presented as though it were simply a logical development of existing policies, rather than representing a radical break with them. In a form of epistemological misappropriation he takes the discourse of international human rights law and uses it to describe something which is in between a Hayekian and an ordoliberal agenda. It is one which has a fundamentally different ideological underpinning from human rights law and would have extremely negative consequences for that body of law. Many of his characterizations of the existing state of the law - whether at the national, EU or international levels - are questionable. What is needed is for all participants in the debate over the future relationship between trade and human rights, be they ordoliberals such as Petersmann or mainstream human rights proponents, to move beyond such analyses and to engage in a systematic and intellectually open debate which acknowledges the underlying assumptions and meets a higher scholarly burden of proof than has so far been the case.

Keywords: human rights, trade law, right to free trade

Suggested Citation

Alston, Philip, Resisting the Merger and Acquisition of Human Rights by Trade Law: A Reply to Petersmann (August 2002). NYU Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 46, Available at SSRN: or

Philip Alston (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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