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"Authoritarian International Law" in Action? Tribal Politics in the Human Rights Council

By: Yu-Jie Chen

The international human rights regime, a product of postwar liberalism, is increasingly falling under the shadow of authoritarian countries that try to influence the regime in favor of their illiberal agendas. This Article uses the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) as a prism to examine the changing dynamics among leading authoritarian and democratic actors as they contend to shape global human rights norms and institutions. This Article argues that China, the most resourceful authoritarian party-state, is engaging in what can be understood as tribal international politics, forming coalitions with authoritarian governments and developing countries that have different state interests but share a common distaste for human rights scrutiny. These countries have coalesced as the “Like-Minded Group” in the HRC and thereby sought to blunt the force of the international human rights system. Democracies and other nonstate stakeholders, however, can and should respond to this challenge by taking a proactive approach that engages more alliances to rebuff these authoritarian advances. This Article contributes to the timely discussion of the possibility of “authoritarian international law” by discussing how authoritarian countries affect the international legal order, proposing the importance of studying group dynamics in any given political international institution.


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