UofT Law faculty authors: 

Jutta Brunnée and Stephen J. Toope. "The Sovereignty of International Law?" (2017) 67(4) UTLJ 496511.


Patrick Macklem’s The Sovereignty of Human Rights is underpinned by a commitment to explaining the role of human rights law from the ‘inside’ of international law, distinguishing this strictly legal realm from global politics. We explore questions surrounding the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of international law by juxtaposing Macklem’s positivist, validity-focused, account and our own ‘interactional’ approach, which embraces the embeddedness of law in social norms and social practices while emphasizing distinctive traits of legality and legal interaction. We argue that a validity-based conception of legality results in a necessarily thin account of the ‘justice’ that human rights can do. Next, we consider Macklem’s focus on collective rights as being central to the role that he argues human rights play in mitigating the distribution and exercise of sovereign power and in legitimating international law’s normative architecture. We assess whether or not international human rights law really plays the legitimating role for international law that Macklem claims it does, given that these rights are subject to a range of limitations built into positive law, such as reservations to treaties, derogation provisions, or substantive limits. Finally, we ask whether human rights serve the distinctive normative function within international law that Macklem accords to them, concluding that several branches and processes of international law shape and restrict sovereignty alongside human rights law.