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Law Research Seminar Series - Why stay, Why leave? Traversing 'the new sovereigntism' and its impact on international human rights institutions

Venue: Birkbeck 30 Russell Square

Why stay, Why leave? Traversing 'the new sovereigntism' and its impact on international human rights institutions

Speaker: Frederick Cowell (Birkbeck, University of London)

The growth of a new sovereigntism the idea that nations can approach international treaties and international organisations less as a system of law and more as one would a restaurant menu, choosing what to comply with and what not to comply with, seemingly poses a significant threat to the network of international institutions created to protect human rights. The assumption behind international human rights law has since its inception been that states voluntarily enter into international treaties or institutions and then are bound to comply with their terms as a matter of international law. This has however assumed a certain commonality of the notion of sovereignty in international law which and has underpinned constructivist and realist thinking about why states do or don't comply with international human rights law. In fact the political idea of sovereignty is in a process of constant evolution. Drawing on the work of Wendy Brown, Richard Joyce and Brad Roth amongst others, I demonstrate how international human rights treaties construct an assumption of what sovereignty is in the clauses regulating compliance with the law. Then using the example of withdrawal or denunciation clauses which allow states to leave a treaty renouncing its obligations under it I explore how new sovereigntism poses a unique risk to international human rights law.

Frederick Cowell is a Lecturer in Law at the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London. He is the editor of Critically Examining the Case Against the 1998 Human Rights Act (Routledge, 2017).

This is a free event however booking is required. To book your place please visit here.

Law Research Seminars are held on Wednesdays at lunchtime. The seminars are free and open to the public, and a light lunch is provided. For more information please contact Dr Başak Ertür

Please note that latecomers to the event are not guaranteed entry. Please be advised that photographs may be taken at the event for use on the Birkbeck website and in Birkbeck marketing materials. By attending this event, you consent to Birkbeck photographing and using your image for these purposes. By registering for this event you consent to your email address being added to the School of Law, Birkbeck mailing list. Your email address will not be shared with third-party organisations. If you would like to request your removal from our mailing list please contact

This event is part of the School of Law's 25th Anniversary celebrations. The School of Law, Birkbeck was founded in 1992 as a Department of Law with three members of academic staff. Over the last twenty-five years it has become a School comprising the Departments of Law and Criminology as well as the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, four research Centres, 40 members of staff and an overall student body of over 1,000. The School is proud of being a pioneer in establishing and developing a hub for the field of critical legal studies. While our national and international reputation has been forged through critical legal research, more recently we have gained recognition for critical criminological and activist research, socio-legal scholarship and policy-engaged empirical research. In recognition of this the last Research Excellence Framework exercise ranked us as being in the top 10 law schools in the UK and in the top 3 in London, while our research environment was judged conducive to producing research of the highest quality.

In this our 25th Anniversary year we will be holding a series of events reflecting on our history and successes as well as looking forward to the opportunities and challenges facing critical legal and criminological teaching and scholarship in the 21st century. Find out more about the 25th Anniversary celebrations here.


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