Regulatory Contestation: Steering toward Consistency in International Norm Implementation

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    Over the past three decades, there has been a notable expansion in the number and remit of global norms of human protection, informing the rationale and reform of international law and institutions in significant ways. Yet, the inconsistent and selective implementation of these norms undermines their legitimacy and strength. Drawing on interviews with United Nations (UN) officials, diplomats, non-governmental organizations, and experts, this article examines the challenge of strengthening consistency in the implementation of international human protection norms. It argues that diversity in practice is a strength for their consistent implementation when understood through a broader account of the regulatory function of international norms. Dominant accounts of the regulatory function of international norms in international law (compliance) and international relations (internalization) seek consistency of norm implementation through mechanisms such as legal/institutional reform and socialization, respectively. These accounts, I argue, are strengthened by a socio-legal approach to responsive regulation that pays attention to the way that norms operate “in reality” to regulate actor behavior, identifying the generative and creative function of international norms in steering the flow of events toward desired outcomes. It then examines efforts to extend human protection norms into new territory and toward improved preventive capacity with an increased emphasis on accountability through the UN Human Rights Council. This article introduces the concept of regulatory contestation that extends analytical attention to the governance processes through which norms shape international politics and practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1349–1369
    JournalInternational Studies Review
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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