What’s Running the World: Global Values, International Law, and the United Nations


By Otto Spijkers

The wonderful Interdisciplinary Journal of Human Rights Law (IJHRL) has just published volume 4 (2009-2010). The journal is available for free online. I am proud to say that it includes an article written by myself, entitled What’s Running the World: Global Values, International Law, and the United Nations. The article is largely based on a paper I presented earlier at the 2nd Global International Studies Conference: What Keeps us Apart, What Keeps us Together (International Order, Justice, Values), organized by the World International Studies Committee (WISC), in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 23 – 26 July 2008 (I think the paper is still available on the website of the conference).

Global Values, International Law, and the United Nations

In the article, I try to explain the role of global values as inspiration for the most important norms of international law. The main assumption, which is almost universally accepted these days, is that international law has moved from an essentially value-free order of sovereign and independent States, to a more cosmopolitan order, based on universal values and common interests. Taking that assumption as its starting point, I aim to explore how and to what extent the language of global values has encroached on the traditional, consent-based foundation of the international legal order.


The strategy is as follows. First, I try to shed some light on the concept of global values itself. Then I look at jus cogens and erga omnes as legal techniques that might be used to give special legal protection to fundamental, value-based norms of general international law. After that, I look at the role of the United Nations in “translating” the language of global values into that of international law, and at ways to ensure universal respect for such value-based norms.


I am currently working very hard to finish a dissertation on this very same topic this year. I hope the article is interesting to read and not too pretentious!

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