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Human Rights Abroad: When Do Human Rights Treaty Obligations Apply Extraterritorially? (with Philip Levitz, Elizabeth Nielsen, et al.), 43 Arizona State Law Journal 389 (2011)


The second half of the twentieth century saw an explosion of human

rights law. Before World War II, there were almost no significant

multilateral human rights agreements. In the years following the war,

sixteen multilateral agreements were concluded through the United Nations

alone. These twentieth-century agreements were distinctive from most

international law that came before them in that they placed the international

community between a sovereign state and its own citizens. No longer could

states act within their own borders with absolute impunity. Yet even before

the ink was dry on these post-war agreements, a question emerged that

remains a subject of intense debate today: What limits, if any, do human

rights agreements place on the behavior of states outside their own


In this Article, we begin to answer that question. We do so by examining

developments in the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties in

foreign jurisdictions and international tribunals across the globe. Building

upon earlier scholarship, we review the recent developments in the

jurisprudence of the Supreme Court and Federal Court of Appeal of

Canada, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the European Court of

Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the

International Court of Justice, the Committee Against Torture, and the

Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and

Political Rights. Our goal in this cross-national examination is to discover

whether these courts have developed a coherent standard or approach from

which the United States might learn.

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