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Call for Papers: The Potential of Public Interest Litigation in International Law

Workshop on 11-12 November 2021, University of Exeter
International courts and tribunals play a pivotal role in the international legal order. They provide for a peaceful alternative for the settlement of disputes, and they interpret and uphold the law. However, the political and legal landscape has evolved drastically since their creation – especially in the last thirty years. One aspect of this evolution is the growing interest in using international courts in the public interest. But this comes with a set of challenges.

First, the scope and subject matter of the disputes brought before international courts and tribunals are changing. Indeed, many international courts and tribunals were initially designed to settle disputes arising between two states, with defined and attributable harms. However, some issues raised (or that could be raised) before international courts today challenge our traditional understanding of international adjudication. This traditional understanding of international disputes leaves out disputes over global commons (such as the deep seabed and space) and global goods (such as health), or disputes where the harm is done not to a single state, but to the international community at large (such as climate change). New types of disputes are emerging, calling into question the role of international courts within the international legal order.

Second, these new disputes have an impact at the procedural level. Notably, many non-state actors have taken increasing interest in responding to international issues mentioned above, and other issues such as grave human rights violations or foreign direct investment by pursuing litigation on the international stage, upon the grounds that such matters are of the public interest. This has led to demands for procedural inclusion and transparency before international courts and tribunals. Procedural concepts such as those of jurisdiction and standing are questioned and reinterpreted in light of the push for public interest litigation. More generally, who should be allowed to access such courts, and who should benefit from such litigation?

Therefore, one of the current challenges faced by international courts and tribunals today is their adaptation and response to such demands, which are increasing alongside growing global crises. Against this background, the aim of this workshop is to address the following questions: who is the ‘public’ in public interest litigation? To what degree can international courts and tribunals respond to new needs in international society in order to successfully address disputes based on the public interest? Can public interest litigation before international courts and tribunals be a solution for today’s global problems? Is there a potential for public interest litigation before such fora to be developed?

Guided by these research questions, Dr. Justine Bendel (University of Exeter) and Dr. Yusra Suedi (University of Geneva) invite abstract submissions that address the potential of public interest litigation in international law. All selected authors will be invited to present their paper at a two-day workshop to be held at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom on the 11 and 12 November 2021. We are delighted to announce that a keynote speech will be delivered by Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue (University of Geneva) at the opening of the workshop. The desired output is the publication of an edited collection of the best papers presented at the workshop, which is funded by the GenEx Joint Seed Money Funding Scheme 2021.

We welcome papers examining the potential of public interest litigation with regard to the following non-exhaustive topics of international law, considering any relevant substantive and procedural challenges:

 Climate
 Space
 Deep seabed
 Investment arbitration
 Grave international crimes
 Grave human rights violations
 Global health
 Environment
 Cybersecurity

The workshop is open to both established and early-career scholars and practitioners, including advanced PhD students. Interested participants should provide an abstract in Word format of no more than 500 words. Together with their abstracts, applicants should provide the following information: first name/surname, affiliation, the title of the proposed paper and an email address. To submit an abstract please write to by 30 April 2021 with the heading ‘Abstract Submission Public Interest Litigation Workshop’. The criteria for selection are originality and fit. Work already published is not eligible for submission. Participants will be informed of the acceptance of their proposals by 10 May 2021 and be required to submit a full paper by 31 October 2021. Papers should be no more than 8,000 words, including references.

Workshop Format
The organisers will hold a two-day workshop preferably in person, but if travelling is not possible due to ongoing COVID restrictions, it will be held either via video conference or in a hybrid format. Each paper will receive comments and feedback from other workshop participants, who are expected to have read each other’s papers.
For any further queries, please contact us at

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