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Transnationalizing the Interpretation of Rights: International Human Rights Law in Cross-Border Contexts

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Altwicker Tilmann,
Project Transnational Public Security Law
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal European Journal of International Law
Volume (Issue) 29
Page(s) 581 - 606
Title of proceedings European Journal of International Law

Open Access

Type of Open Access Green OA Embargo (Freely available via Repository after an embargo)


International human rights law (IHRL) is still largely state-centred. This is an obstacle when it comes to making cross-border problems such as transboundary environmental harm and transnational surveillance amenable to human rights claims. The state-centeredness of IHRL is challenged by three phenomena associated with transnationalization processes: by extraterritorial harmful effects, through complex (multi-stage, multi-level, and public-private) cross-border cooperation impacting the enjoyment of rights, and, finally, by cross-border conduct of non-state actors with an adverse impact on rights abroad. The central argument defended here is that existing IHRL can accommodate these challenges if some of its core concepts are given a ‘transnational interpretation’, thus by complementing the traditional state-centred conception of IHRL. The article discusses transnational interpretations of three core doctrinal concepts, namely jurisdiction, interference, and human rights obligations. It is shown that examples for transnational interpretations of international human rights can be found, e.g., in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and some recent EU-US cooperation treaties.