On January 18, Professor Karen Alter of Northwestern University presented her research on international legal institutions and their role in the global struggle for human rights at the third installment of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Speaker Series. Alter, a professor of Political Science and Law, focused her lecture on the evolution of the transnational and human rights judicial orders.
To address the first subject, Alter offered a historical analysis of international courts since the establishment of the paradigmatic European Court of Justice in 1952. Alter argued that progressive lawyers and judges in Western Europe created a European legal revolution that then spread internationally and spurred the proliferation of international legal courts. She also suggested that contemporary international courts have benefitted from the "roadmap" provided by both the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) while adjusting this European model to develop their own, more locally nuanced jurisprudence.
Alter also highlighted the importance of international courts focused on human rights issues. While she admitted that certain courts, like the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), have failed to satisfactorily address issues of human rights in their jurisdictions, she maintained that these courts can still serve as a powerful check for governments that violate the human rights of their people and the domestic judicial systems that legitimize these abuses. She argued that these courts can act as "tipping point political actors" who give hope to human rights activists and legal scholars. She concluded on an optimistic note, saying "[These] activists can change the world.