Home » Articles » The Responsibility to Protect and the Decline of Sovereignty: Free Speech Protection Under International Law

The Responsibility to Protect and the Decline of Sovereignty: Free Speech Protection Under International Law

PDF · William Magnuson · Jul-6-2012 · 43 VAND. J. TRANSNAT'L L. 255 (2010)

State sovereignty has long held a revered post in international law, but it received a blow in the aftermath of World War II, when the world realized the full extent of atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis on their own citizens.  In the postwar period, the idea that individuals possessed rights independent of their own states gained a foothold in world discussions, and a proliferation of human rights treaties guaranteeing fundamental rights followed.  These rights were, for the most part, unenforceable, though, and in the 1990s, a number of humanitarian catastrophes (in Kosovo, Rwanda, and Somalia) galvanized the international community to develop a doctrine to protect the fundamental rights of all individuals.  The resulting “responsibility to protect” individuals from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity stood as a radical rejection of the prewar concept of state sovereignty and assured that states could no longer hide behind the shield of territorial integrity.  But the doctrine created another disconnect in international law: it picked out only a few fundamental rights for protection, leaving citizens to rely on the whim of their states to protect their other rights.  This Article argues that this state of the law is no longer sustainable, as it is still beholden in important ways to the now-eroded concept of state sovereignty.  The responsibility to protect should be expanded to include protection of fundamental rights in general and the freedom of speech in particular.  The inclusion of the freedom of expression in the pantheon of protected rights is broadly consistent with the moral, legal, and consequentialist arguments in favor of the international norm of responsibility to protect.  Moreover, an expansive reading of the obligation to intervene, particularly in nontraditional ways, will increase the legitimacy of the international system.




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