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Human Rights between Jurisprudence and Social Science


This article argues that human rights law – which mediates between claims about universal human nature, on the one hand, and hard-fought political battles, on the other – is in particular need of a richer exchange between jurisprudential approaches and social science theory and methods. Using the example of the Inter-American Human Rights System, the article calls for more human rights scholarship with a new realist sensibility. It demonstrates in what ways legal and social science scholarship on human rights law both stand to improve through sustained, thoughtful exchange.

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1 Friedman, L.. ‘The Law and Society Movement’, (1987) 38 Stanford Law Review 763.

2 E. Posner, ‘Against Human Rights’, 2014 (October) Harper's Magazine 13–16.

3 See also G. Shaffer and T. Ginsburg, ‘The Empirical Trend in International Law’, (2012); 106 AJIL 1; Hafner-Burton, E. M., Victor, D. G., and Lupu, Y., ‘Political Science Research on International Law: The State of the Field’, (2012) 106 AJIL 47.

4 The contradiction in his argument, in other words, is that he asserts both that we do not have enough empirical research to adequately assess the impact of human rights law, and that human rights law interventions are less effective than development aid.

5 See section 4, infra.

6 See S. Liu, ‘Law's Social Forms: A Powerless Approach to the Sociology of Law’, (2015) Law & Social Inquiry, forthcoming (arguing that social scientists in the US have neglected theorizing about law's autonomy, and over-emphasized the study of how political power shapes legal forms). G. Shaffer, ‘A New Legal Realist Approach to International Law’, in this issue, at 189ff.

7 See Nourse, V. and Shaffer, G., ‘Varieties of New Legal Realism: Can a New World Order Spur a New Scholarly Agenda,’ (2009) 95 Cornell Law Review 61.

8 Erlanger, H. al., ‘Is it Time for a New Legal Realism?’, (2005) (2) Wisconsin Law Review 335, at 336 (‘Our goal is to create translations of social science that will be useful even to legal academics and lawyers who do not wish to perform empirical research themselves, while also encouraging translations of legal issues that will help social scientists gain a more sophisticated understanding of how law is understood “from the inside” by those with legal training.’)

9 Lavi, S., ‘Turning the Tables on “Law and . . ..”: A Jurisprudential Inquiry into Contemporary Legal Theory’, (2011) 96 Cornell Law Review 811, at 812.

10 Organization of American States, American Convention on Human Rights, 22 November 1969, OASTS No. 36, 1144 UNTS 123.

11 See M. Villegas, Les Pouvoirs du Droit: Étude Comparée de Théories Sociopolitiques du Droit, forthcoming (my translation), Chapter 7.

12 These, in turn, had been received from the École de l’exégèse and the German conceptualism, and rearticulated in locally adept terms. See D. L. Medina, Teoría Impura del Derecho: La Transformación de la Cultural Juridical Latinoamericana (2004), Chapter 3.

13 See Medina, ibid., at 274; See also Linarelli, J., ‘Anglo-American Jurisprudence and Latin America’, (1996) 20 Fordham International Law Journal 50.

14 See Medina, supra note 12 at 274 (my translation of ‘El “componente científico” del nuevo antiformalismo francés era tan ajeno a la tradición juridica local que no podía siquiera ser extraído de los textos que lo anunicaban con gran claridad . . .’).

15 See Villegas, supra note 11.

16 F. Gonzales, ‘El Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos: Transoformaciones y Desafios’ (2013) 63, at 67.

18 See, e.g., J. Méndez and F. Cox (eds.), El Futuro del Sistema Interamericano de Protección de los Derechos Humanos (1998); See also González, supra note 16.

19 V. R. Rescia, ‘La Ejecución de las Sentencias de la Corte’, in J. Méndez and F. Cox, supra note 18, at 449.

20 As Jose Miguel Insulza, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, has noted: ‘noncompliance of the resolutions of the [Inter-American] System . . . gravely damages it’. J. Insulza, ‘Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos: Presente y Futuro’ (‘Inter-American System of Human Rights: Present and Future’), in Anuario De Derechos Humanos (Yearbook of Human Rights) (2006), 119, at 124, available at <> (accessed 3 February 2015).

21 Basch, al., ‘The Effectiveness of the Inter-American System of Human Rights Protection: A Quantitative Approach to its Functioning and Compliance With its Decisions’, (2010) 7 Sur – International Journal of Human Rights 9, at 10.

22 Ibid., at 19.

23 Ibid., at 30.

24 Cavallaro, J. and Brewer, S., ‘Reevaluating Regional Human Rights Litigation in the Twenty-First Century: The Case of the Inter-American Court’, (2008) 102 AJIL 768.

25 Their article includes cites to social science scholars such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, Rachel Cichowski, and Kathryn Sikkink.

26 Alter, K., ‘Who are the Masters of the Treaty? European Governments and the European Court of Justice’, (1998) 52 International Organization 121; Mattli, W. and Slaughter, A.-M., ‘Law and Politics in the European Union: A Reply to Garrett’, (1995) 49 International Organization 183; Sweet, A. S., ‘Judicialization and the Construction of Governance’, (1999) 32 Comparative Political Studies 147; Weiler, J. H., ‘A Quiet Revolution: The European Court of Justice and Its Interlocutors’, (1994) 26Comparative Political Studies 510.

27 B. Tamanaha, ‘The Third Pillar of Jurisprudence’, (2013) Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13–04–01, at 4 (Available at SSRN: <> (accessed 3 February 2015). See also G. Shaffer, this issue, 189ff.

28 See Antkowiak, T. M., ‘Rights, Resources, and Rhetoric: Indigenous Peoples and the Inter-American Court’, (2014) 35 (1)University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 113.

29 I thank Tatiana Alfonso Sierra for this observation.

30 T. A. Alfonso Sierra, ‘Redistributing through Property Rights? Collective Land Tenure Systems and Welfare for the Rural Poor in Latin America’, (2014) (on file with author).

31 R. Gargarella, ‘Sin Lugar para la Soberanía Popular. Democracia, Derechos y Castigo en el Caso Gelman’, (2012) at < > (accessed 3 February 2015)

32 See, e.g., K. Ambos, E. Malarino, and G. Elsner (eds.), E1 Sistema Interamericano De Proteccion de los Derechos Humanos y Derecho Penal Internacional, (2012), available at <> (accessed 3 February 2015); See also Pastor, D. R., ‘La Deriva Neopunitivista de Organismos y Activistas como Causa del Desprestigio Actual de los Derechos Humanos’, (2005) 1 Nueva Doctrina Penal 73; Basch, F. F., ‘The Doctrine of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Regarding States’ Duty to Punish Human Rights Violations and its Dangers’, (2007) 23 American University International Law Review 195; Malarino, E., ‘Judicial Activism, Punitivism and Supranationalisation: Illiberal and Antidemocratic Tendencies of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’, (2012) 12 ICLR 665.

33 Hawkins, D. and Jacoby, W., ‘Partial Compliance: A Comparison of the European and Inter-American Courts for Human Rights’, (2010) 6 Journal of International Law and International Relations 35; C. Hillebrecht, Domestic Politics and International Human Rights Tribunals: The Problem of Compliance (2014).

34 See Hillebrecht, supra note 36, at 68.

35 Ibid., at 69.

36 See, e.g., Colombian Constitutional Court, Judgment C-04 2003.

37 Colombia has a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court.

38 The author is a member of this network.

39 See A. von Bogdandy, H. Fix-Fierro, and M. M. Antoniazzi (eds.), Ius Constitutionale Commune en América Latina. Rasgos, Potencialidades y Desafíos (2014).

40 S. Cantón, ‘La Máquina del Tiempo Dominicana,’ El País, 14 November, 2014.

41 Note that several chapters of the volume already engage the questions of political context and empirical study. See, e.g., A. Malamud, ‘El Contexto del Diálogo Jurídico Interamericano: Fragmentación y Diferenciación en Sociedades Más Prósperas’, 107–24 and O. Parra Vera, ‘El Impacto de las Decisiones Interamericanas: Notas sobre la producción académica y una propuesta de investigación en torno al ‘empoderamiento institucional’ 383–420 in von Bogdandy, supra note 42.

42 Other treaties, such as those underlying the World Trade Organization or the Kyoto Protocol, more clearly claim roots in political compromise. While the criminal courts also have idealistic roots, concern with due process demands a more text-based interpretive approach.

* Associate Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin, and Permanent Visiting Professor of Law, Universidad Diego Portales [].

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Leiden Journal of International Law
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