Double Standards and International Law


15-16 July 2024

Freie Universität Berlin

Berlin, Germany

Full programme here.

The call for papers [closed] is here.

Concept note

Double standards are ubiquitous within the study and practice of international law. Examples abound as states speak abstractly about the need for accountability and their commitment to international law but in practice act inconsistently, for example, in applying human rights standards, combatting transnational and international crimes, or making and enforcing the rules that govern trade and development. As wars continue to grip parts of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, many openly question or seek to remake features of the international system, resurrecting old and raising new challenges for global governance and multilateralism. With the United Nations, World Bank and other multilateral bodies struggling for legitimacy, and globalization increasingly associated with unequal outcomes, authoritarian governments and populist movements around the world have re-asserted their authority inter alia by challenging the legitimacy of the post-Second World War legal order. It is argued increasingly that a Western-dominated rules-based or liberal international order favors some over others, with expressions of double standards framed as hypocrisy, whataboutism, tu quoque arguments, or other variants of inconsistency between rhetoric and practice. 

This workshop seeks to foster debate about how double standards are expressed within international law and enhance understanding of how evidence of double standards impacts perceptions and practice. The organizers welcome papers that show the many ways that claims and evidence of double standards manifest in different forms of international legal argument, as well as time- and area-specific considerations of how double standards operate in different fields of international law. In particular, the workshop aims to clarify how accusations of double standards are formulated and perceived in various contexts and from various perspectives, including from the Global South(s), and how evidence of double standards can be analyzed from a cross-disciplinary angle, including through an empirical lens. This workshop aims to bring together scholars and practitioners, from various fields of international law and through divergent theoretical and geographical perspectives, to analyze how double standards manifest through international law and impact international legal practice.