College of Law Faculty Scholarship


The Promise of International Law in Developing a Global Foundation for Social Justice

Source Publication (e.g., journal title)

Social Justice and the University: Globalization, Human Rights and the Future of Democracy

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2014


Notions of human rights and social justice have become so intertwined that today one can enroll in an academic program that leads to an MA degree in “Social Justice and Human Rights.” The emergence of this interdisciplinary field of study, on the one hand, seems a perfectly natural recognition of the long-standing affinity shared by these two concepts. Yet, on the other, the merger also reasonably may strike one as an exceedingly amorphous frame of reference for advanced education, if only because both concepts are subject to myriad of, and sometimes contesting, definitions. For example, viewed from the perspective of Glenn Beck, such a program could be equated with the curriculum of a Marxist re-education camp if it dared move beyond a one-dimensional, religiously infused mission of helping the poor! At the same time, restricting the definition of social justice in this manner would appear to run against the spirit underpinning the very term. Likewise, human rights, almost from the outset, have been subject to competing visions that grapple, among other things, between the political and economic as well as the universalist and relativist.Inevitably, preliminary questions arise as to what definition of human rights and whose social justice is being held out as a baseline when engaging in this complex and often controversial area. But rather than be preoccupied with this definitional quagmire, I instead propose in this brief chapter the modest task of highlighting the relevancy of modern international human rights law as a transnational lingua franca for framing and promoting social justice advocacy on the ground.