International Law versus Political Science (Part II)

When I was initially researching masters programs, I was encouraged by a professor to pursue international law. I was unsure about whether my background in political science and criminology had given me enough of a foundation to study international law at a postgraduate level. My first consideration surrounded the fact that I’d be learning alongside lawyers. The second involved the divergence from politics and what seemed like a wild foray into the world of law.
It appeared to be a good choice. The law is secure. It seemed to be more practical than something like politics which is essentially based on theoretical concepts and is extremely changeable.
But in the few months that I’ve been immersed international law, I’ve come to realize that the subject seems solid but at times, it may prove to be useless in fact.
The issue becomes complicated when I look at specific case studies- states overlooking the human rights violations of other states, the Security Council churning out coercive resolutions that are acceded to by the international community, new nations who can barely organize themselves never mind try to comply with their international obligations…
It is so often that heads of states and other authorities will either manipulate the law or ignore it all together for their own interests. That’s politics.
Politics is about how people do act instead of how they should act (the latter being international law).
Do I think international law is useless? Of course not, it has a mountain of potential.
But the past few months of study have given me a different approach regarding the role of politics in law. Maybe it should have been obvious from the start but states do not always comply. But following that line, a lot of states do comply. Political science has helped me discern why and when they comply and do not comply. I can see how states do act along with how they should act.
I think I’ve learned a lot by reconciling my understanding of political science with what I’m learning right now. It’s definitely been very insightful and has contributed towards rounding out my knowledge about how the world works.

International Law versus Political Science (Part I)

From my Human Rights Law book, an excerpt by Hina Jilani, an advocate from Pakistan:

As a lawyer and a human rights defender, I have frequently had to choose between political action, by way of advocacy or protest, and legal action, by seeking to assert rights through legal process.
One of the primary considerations in making that choice has always been: what is the best way of linking the search for justice, and the result achieved to respect for human rights? Another consideration is how to maximize public consciousness about the interconnectedness of a public debate and the persons who suffer the consequences of human rights violations.

This held particular interest to me as since, in the past, I’ve focused my actions and research on politics and activism, it was acknowledging the significance of the legal process that drove me to consider an LL.M. instead of an M.A. I feel that it is beneficial for those working in human rights to have an understanding of both the former and the latter, in the way that Jilani does.
Here are some of the other things I’ve taken a note of:
I’ve found it extremely striking how a lot of the discourse so far has involved the United States. I did expect an Anglo-American centric view of human rights law but I’d always assumed that Europe was as important, if not more important, than the United States when it came to the development of human rights.
I was right but only to an extent.
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I had accepted that the version of history that was taught in my classes had an American bias but I assumed that this was because Canada didn’t have much to offer in terms of international political science. All the authors I’ve ever read were American (excepting maybe Iggy) and, unless we were taking a course specific to Canadian politics, it was assumed that whatever we would be discussing in the course would involve a lot of American thinking.
Another running theme, which is quite obvious, has been the tension between state sovereignty and international human rights law. Of course, I had always known that it was an issue. But since I never really concentrated on the law aspect (my degree usually dealt with theory and specific occurrences of human rights abuses), this has changed the paradigm with which I see international law.
The East-West divide between civil/political rights and economic/social/cultural rights is also something that I was previously aware of but I didn’t understand the full impact of until now.
The readings are extremely thorough and I’m learning a lot from them despite the single-paned windows that allow the jubilant shouts of inebriated freshmen to echo through at all hours of the night.
I feel like I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage academically since I spent 8 months letting my brain to turn to mush but that’s not a good enough excuse since most LL.M. students have waited a year or more before undertaking this degree.