Philippe Sands


The title of this timely and innovative new journal raises basic

questions about the connection between human rights norms and

development norms. What is their hierarchical relationship? How does the

content of one inform that of the other, if at all? Is the international legal order

a 'bric-a-brac" or a "system"? Is it an aggregate of disparate elements

haphazardly brought together or a systematically organized and coherent

structure? If the latter, what organizing techniques, if any, exist to assure


In this Article, I set out some introductory thoughts on the relationship

between and the hierarchy among different norms of international law. To be

dear, the subject of relationship and hierarchy has several aspects. One is the

general relationship between different sources of legal obligation, in

particular between treaty and custom. A second is the relationship between

different subject matter areas of international law: For example, which

prevails in a conflict between treaty norms of the law of development and the

law of human rights, or between the law of international trade and the law of

the environment? A third aspect merges the first two: What is the relationship

between a treaty norm arising in one area of international law and a

customary norm arising in another? In this paper, I focus on the third issue,

which has received surprisingly little attention, while touching also on the

first aspect.