Research Handbook on Global Justice and International Economic Law

Research Handbook on Global Justice and International Economic Law

Research Handbooks on Globalisation and the Law series

Edited by John Linarelli

The fairness of institutions of global economic governance ranks among the most pressing issues of our time. Most approaches to understanding the complex structure of treaties and intergovernmental organizations such as the WTO tend to uncritically accept an economic focus, highlighting gains from trade and the merits of progressive trade and investment liberalization. While the economic arguments are compelling, other ways of thinking about the roles of these institutions have received less attention. The Research Handbook fills this gap by offering a substantial interdisciplinary examination of the normative and policy underpinnings of the international economic order.

Chapter 2: Human rights and international economic law in the 21st century

Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, international economic law, trade law, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights


Human rights law (HRL) and international economic law (IEL) evolved as separate legal systems of “primary rules of conduct” and “secondary rules” of recognition, change and adjudication without explicit regulation of their controversial interrelationships. The legal methodologies applied in these two fields of multilevel legal practices – i.e. the conceptions of the sources and “rules of recognition” of law, the methods of legal interpretation, the functions and systemic nature of the legal systems concerned, and of their relationships to other areas of law and politics – often differ. This contribution argues that – due to the universal recognition of human rights limiting all governance powers – national and international governance institutions have not only legal duties to interpret HRL and IEL in mutually coherent ways with due respect for the reality of legitimate “constitutional pluralism” and “reasonable disagreement” on “principles of justice” justifying HRL as well as IEL. They must also justify and legally construct “public justice” (Kant) in IEL and institutionalize more “cosmopolitan constitutionalism” in UN HRL as well as in IEL, for instance by strengthening legal, judicial and democratic accountability of governments vis-à-vis citizens for their obvious “governance failures” to protect international public goods. Many national constitutions, regional human rights conventions and all UN human rights instruments derive human rights from respect for the human dignity of all human beings who – as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “are endowed with reason and con- science and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (Article 1 UDHR).

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