Book Review: The Misery of International Law: Confrontations With Injustice in the Global Economy

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

The Misery of International Law: Confrontations with Injustice in the Global Economy. By John Linarelli, Margot E. Salomon & Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. iv, 304 p. Includes bibliography and index. ISBN: 978-0198753957 (hardcover) $125.00.

Reviewed by Humayun Rashid
Head of Cataloguing & Reference Librarian
Bora Laskin Law Library, University of Toronto
In CLLR 44:1

This book analyzes the ways in which international law contributes to the growth of inequality and poverty in the global economy. Surprisingly, the promotion and growth of misery is a product of trade, investment, and finance in conjunction with human rights laws. The norms within the International Economic Order and capitalism deprive the poor of their human rights protections. Alternatives that could serve humanity better are ignored in order to increase the benefits to the powerful and rich. In short, the challenge within The Misery of International Law is to resolve the imbalance within the global economy between international investment, trade laws, and human rights.

Each chapter in The Misery of International Law outlines specific international economic legal regimes and their impacts on human rights.

In chapter one, the authors discuss how regimes of international trade, investment, global finance, and human rights have been constructed and constituted by capitalism in conjunction with international law. The authors argue for a different type of international order that can meet the demands of both justice and equality, while also improving ordinary life.

In chapter two, the authors assert that international law needs to play a bigger role in meeting the principles and demands of justice while achieving global cooperation. Since the current state of international law has been a failure in this area, there is a strong need for a theory of justice in international law based on moral and legal accountability, which meets the standards of respect and justification to each individual.

Chapter three highlights aspects of the global economic order that are tied to neoliberalism where global governance rules adhere more strictly to the Washington Consensus Model rather than to programs that would encourage the sovereignty of the individual state to choose and pursue its own economic policies. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recognized the rights and powers of multinational corporations, but even with binding codes to regulate the behaviour of multinationals, their human rights obligations were often ignored. International law was actually indirectly sanctioning grave injustices and economic violence in the wake of this extreme form of global capitalism.

Chapter four discusses the influence of trade agreements on the global trade architecture. These trade agreements protect the interests of capitalism and multinational corporations while intruding on the individual state’s domestic policies. Morally, these agreements should be subjected to the demands of justice in order to generate the international cooperation needed to remedy this imbalance.

In chapter five, we see how international economic law protects the rights of investors and foreign investment at the expense of public interest. Historically, investment laws, reflected in such mega-regional treaties as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), curtailed the rights of states to regulate inside their own jurisdictions and further destabilized economic controls. However, if justice were provided, economic policies of individual states would need to be developed based on their individual internal economic priorities.

In chapter six, we are presented with a description of the design of global financial structures, yet another example of how outside imposition on and control over states results in the creation of instability and a loss of benefits to state citizens. A case in point is the World Bank’s handling of the Greek sovereign debt crisis. The overall risky financial structure of banks leads to instability and serious damage to the standard of living. Sovereign debt gives immense power to creditors at the expense of the welfare of a state’s citizenry.

Chapter seven considers the purpose of human rights as a defence against the abuse of political and economic power. This misconduct is ignored when current capitalist regimes are allowed to operate under such doctrines as the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). While human rights protections are meant to protect potential victims, they also endorse conventional models of economic growth, thereby contributing to the abuse. In order to achieve the objective of addressing the effects of economic and social injustice, human rights laws must be allowed to expose and eliminate the root causes of immiseration.

In the current regime of international law, powerful states shape international economic law and order to perpetuate capitalist expansion, the effect of which is social injustice and inequality. This is clearly reflected in contemporary trade agreements. International human rights law continues to provide concessions to capitalism while simultaneously narrowing the field of opportunity for alternatives to serve humanity. In order for international law to fulfill its true role, there needs to be a restructuring of the international economic order that can accommodate a world order based on social justice and equality.

This book, which addresses the promotion of misery, will be valuable to scholars of international law as well as students of international economic law and order. Readers will find that the select bibliography at the end of the book, which includes relevant monographs, references to chapters from edited collections, and journal article citations, will facilitate further research and investigation into this area.

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