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To what extent should domestic courts apply international law – specifically the international law of human rights? I would like to examine this question with reference to two very different states: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States. For quite distinct reasons, neither of the two has yet fully embraced the idea of direct application in national tribunals of the body of international law that regulates the relationship between human beings and their own governments. As the post-Cold War era unfolds, it is time to ask whether either or both of these erstwhile adversaries might finally be ready for full-fledged implementation of international human rights law in national courts.

The Soviet Union is going through such profound political and constitutional change that specific comments run the risk of obsolescence or irrelevancy. In early 1991, when this Essay was in preparation, the breakup of the Union came to seem inevitable, but what will emerge cannot yet be foreseen. Retrogressive developments have cast doubt on the prospects for advancing the rule of law under the current Soviet leadership. Nonetheless, I believe that the issue of domestic application of international human rights law will survive the current tumultuous period and will figure in the disposition of transcendent constitutional issues.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Human Rights Law | International Humanitarian Law | Law