The relationship of international human rights law and general international law: hermeneutic constraint, or pushing the boundaries?

Authored by: Scott Sheeran

Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415620734
eBook ISBN: 9780203481417
Adobe ISBN: 9781135055943


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The relationship between general international law (GIL) and international human rights law (IHRL) is a complex narrative of tension, evolution and juxtaposition. IHRL and its strong proponents the ‘human rightists’ have been criticised for separatist tendencies and single-mindedness, ‘human rights triumphalism’, and a lack of understanding that it is a ‘subbranch’ of international law subject to the latter’s rules and methodology. 1 1

A. Pellet, ‘“Human Rightism” and International Law’, Gilbert Amado Lecture (18 July 2000) 6, available at: rightism%20and%20international%20law%20(G.%20Amado).pdf (accessed 10 February 2013); M. Kamminga/ILA, ‘Final Report on the Impact of International Human Rights Law on General International Law’, in M. Kamminga and M. Scheinin (eds), The Impact of International Human Rights Law on General International Law (OUP, 2009) 4; I. Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law, 6th edn (OUP, 2003) 529–30.

By contrast, human rights lawyers have argued that IHRL is a separate regime and the significant influence of IHRL on GIL ‘is highly desirable in order to soften the international legal order’s predominantly state-centred nature and to accommodate the special, nonreciprocal nature of … human rights’ obligations. 2 2

ILA Final Report (n. 1) 4, 21 (Conclusion 1).

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