Monthly Archives: November 2008

Working Paper on SSRN

We’ve added a working paper to the Social Sciences Research Network. It’s called Authority of International Institutions: The Case for International Human Rights Treaty Bodies. It can be downloaded from the Social Sciences Research Network here.

We welcome any comments…!


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Ethical Considerations

The data collection overall will amount to 100-120 in depth interviews with judges, lawyers and politicians in five different countries and in Strasbourg, where the European Court of Human Rights is located. The research project seeks prior and informed consent from all interviewees. Given that most of the judges demand their interview data to be non-attributable, the interviewees will not be identified in the final data analysis. In order to ensure transparency of the data collection process, whilst maintaining confidentiality, two lists of interviewees will be produced in the index. List one indentifies the names of all the people interviewed, or their official function if the name has to be withheld for reasons of confidentiality, for example, Law Lord, Constitutional Court Judge, or Mr/Ms xxx, Barrister. A separate list will then provide information about each interview, e.g. date, length of interview, and so forth and will also assign each interview with an identification number. This list will be in a different order from the first to ensure that the reader cannot find out which interview number corresponds to which person. In the text we shall then only refer to interviews by number, not by name of interviewee, ensuring that confidentiality is preserved.

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Research Methods and Case Selection

This study engages in qualitative, cross-sectional and comparative country analysis to examine what conceptually distinct domain is occupied by the supranational human rights model in Europe and whether there exits variations and similarities when contexts change. The research targets politicians, apex court judges and human rights lawyers in five countries: United Kingdom, Turkey, Germany, Bulgaria and Ireland. Further research in Strasbourg, the home of the European human rights system, with government representatives, lawyers and judges, support the country analyses.

The Sample

The study defines four subworlds in identifying the sample for the study: members of parliaments, apex court judges, human rights lawyers in domestic contexts and judges, government representatives and lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights. Not only the interests of the governments, but these subworlds constitute the institution of supranationalism in the case of the European human rights system. The reason to focus on the actors that engage in the practice rather than the random population of lawyers, judges and politicians is because the meaning and practice of supranationalism is sustained and distinguished by other international practices by these actors. The study, therefore, undertakes, purposive sampling of these actors rather than random sampling from the whole population of politicians, judges and lawyers in domestic contexts. A secondary assumption with respect to the sampling is that membership in the social worlds of politics, apex judiciary and human rights lawyering have the ability to overcome the temporal and personal nature of the in-depth interview technique. Participation in social worlds enables individuals to develop shared and interpretive schemes of understanding. This makes it possible to analyse the data in terms of disagreements between categories and meanings of concepts rather than disagreements between persons. The study, however, is sensitive to the differences of the social positions interviewees occupy. The data analysis, therefore, pays attention to variations between politicians, judges and lawyers as well as variations between politicians from ruling parties and others.

Case Selection

The country selection is driven by the concern to capture variation in understanding the meaning and significance of supranationalism. The study also seeks to increase the encountering of ‘negative instances’ and alternative or competing normative meanings of human rights supranationalism. It is therefore equally important to identify what kinds of contexts breed support as well as rejection of and indifference towards supranationalism and the contexts that enable instrumental concerns to become more dominant than non-instrumental ones.

The five countries selected vary in terms of

a) their length of participation in the European human rights system

b) the number of cases that have been brought against them

c) domestic legal systems

d) membership to other international and regional organisations

e) size and population of country

f) diversity of the population on ethnic, religious, linguistic grounds

g) economic and social development

h) where ruling political parties fall in the political spectrum

Comparing few countries achieves control through careful selection of cases. Since the five countries constitute units of analysis with respect to the case of the European Court of Human Rights, the focus will be on similarities and differences among different units rather than the analytic relationship between variables in all units. The variation in the countries enables the identification of whether there are properties of supranationalism that are constant in all the contexts under analysis and if and when there is variation, what underlying systems of meaning constitute key explanatory factors for the support of different degrees or forms of supranationalism.


Filed under Methodology

Designing the ECtHR Project

Designing the ECtHR Project

This study is about the meaning and place of supranational human rights institutions in the world of contemporary nation-states. It studies the European Human Rights System as a case of human rights supranationalism. Forty-seven states with diverse domestic and international preferences recognise the authority of the European Court of Human Rights in deciding how they should treat citizens and non-citizens. The European Human Rights System not only represents a political and legal experiment in international affairs, but it is also an empirical puzzle with regard to the predominant narratives about international institutions and regimes. The supranational model exemplified by the European Court of Human Rights shows that the interactions that sustain this institution are not limited to those of government agents and that models that predict cost-benefit analysis cannot alone explain the persistence of human rights supranationalism in Europe. A diverse range of domestic actors, from judges to members of parliament to human rights lawyers and activists are involved in the operation of this institution. Governments ultimately retain the power to pull out of the system, but as long as they are plugged into it, the supranational institution feeds in from a complex constellation of systems of meanings about legitimacy, authority, special role and contribution for its institutional continuity and impact.

How can we understand this apparent puzzle of supranationalism entrenched into the domestic practice of legislatures, judges and lawyers? What enables the European Court of Human Rights to monitor the use of political power in sovereign countries as diverse as Turkey, Ireland, Bulgaria, Germany and the United Kingdom? Why have an ever-increasing number of states reviewed their own domestic political preferences and policies in the light of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights? What legitimizes the domestic actors’ acceptance of the authority of the European Court of Human Rights? What does the European Court of Human Rights experience mean for our understanding for the persistence and success of supranational institutions?

In order to answer these questions, this study aims to identify and analyse the pool of normative justifications for why domestic actors support the supranational model of the European Court of Human Rights. This study has a constructivist-interpretivist approach to political science research and the study of international courts. The study is constructivist in nature as it emphasises the primacy of context in research and identifies supranationalism as a context-specific practice. The study is interpretivist as it is primarily interested in understanding what motivates legal and political elites to support the European Court of Human Rights and its judgments and what meaning frame could best explain the supranational practices in a diversity of contexts that support it. This approach allows the study to identify the systems of meanings that sustain the European Court of Human Rights and it offers clues about how a supranational model of institution takes root in the issue area of human rights. The study takes questions of legitimacy, authority and compliance further by inquiring into the boundaries of these concepts by asking what characteristics of this system leads it to be viewed as legitimate among the legal and political elites and in what ways compliance is negotiated. The findings of this study will make it possible to set out the logic of supranationalism as a differentiated and distinctive category of understanding of the role of institutions beyond the state as well as how the legitimacy of supranational institutions are built and maintained in politics and to what extent this affects compliance with supranational human rights decisions.

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