Returning Sovereignty to the People
Governments across the world regularly invoke sovereignty to demand that the international community “mind its own business” while they commit human rights abuses. They proclaim that the sovereign right to be free from international intervention in domestic affairs permits them unfettered discretion within their territory. This Article seeks to challenge those proclamations by resort to sovereignty in the people, a time-honored principle that is typically more rhetorical than substantive. Relying on classical interpretations of sovereignty, this Article infuses substance into the concept of sovereignty in the people to recognize that a government is entitled to sovereign rights only as the legitimate representative of the people and only as long as it fulfills its duties to them. The Article then examines the conditions that must be met for a government to claim sovereign rights, as well as how and by whom access to these rights should be determined. Taken to its logical conclusion, sovereignty in the people establishes that (1) sovereign rights can be lost when governments commit less than the most egregious human rights abuses, which differentiates this from the responsibility to protect; and (2) any form of government is at risk of losing these rights, including democracies.