Hierarchy in International Law: The Place of Human Rights


Erika De Wet, Co-Director and Professor of International Law, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, University of Pretoria; Professor of International Constitutional Law, University of Amsterdam

Jure Vidmar, Anglo-German Fellow, Institute of European and Comparative Law, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford


This book takes an inductive approach to the question of whether there is a hierarchy in international law, with human rights obligations trumping other duties. It assesses the extent to which such a hierarchy can be said to exist through an analysis of the case law of national courts. Each chapter of the book examines domestic case law on an issue where human rights obligations conflict with another international law requirement, to see whether national courts gave precedence to human rights. If this is shown to be the case, it would lend support to the argument that the international legal order is moving toward a vertical legal system, with human rights at its apex.

In resolving conflicts between human rights obligations and other areas of international law, the practice of judicial bodies, both domestic and international, is crucial. Judicial practice indicates that norm conflicts typically manifest themselves in situations where human rights obligations are at odds with other international obligations, such as immunities; extradition and refoulement; trade and investment law; and environmental protection. This book sets out and analyses the relevant case law in all of these areas.

Key Features

  • Uses an innovate, inductive approach to assess whether a human rights-based hierarchy exists in international law
  • Examines the case law of national and international courts to see whether primacy is given to human rights in case of a norm conflict
  • Provides an overview of the conflict avoidance techniques employed by courts and tribunals


“an intelligent collection of essays with a specific purpose: “to examine norm conflicts between human rights obligations and other areas of international law, as well as how such conflicts are dealt with by judicial organs”.” –Massimo Iovavane, Italian Yearbook of International Law

“In sum, this book provides an innovative and broad ranging account of how a variety of courts deal with the interaction between international human rights law and other international law.” – Matthew Saul, Human Rights Law Review 13:1

Book Details

  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199647070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199647071


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