The ‘Promise and Pathos’ of Legal Mobilization: Perspectives on Palestine

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationAcademic


Human rights advocacy, including the pursuit of justice through strategic, legal mobilization (LM), is a highly political act. Using civil and/or criminal law as a form of ‘politics by other means’ forces, or otherwise enables, the translation of global human rights norms into a locally relevant context (the promise). However, agency is not boundless in this context; it is heavily conditioned by the ‘structural bias’ of governance institutions, both at international and national levels (the pathos). Drawing on empirical data that reveals numerous efforts to resolve the decades-long impasse between Israel and Palestinian people through LM, this paper will critically evaluate the possibilities and challenges of advocating for accountability. Particular focus will be given to addressing the obligations of state and non-state actors to ensure corporate accountability to realize human rights and social justice, in one of the world’s most polarized conflict. While the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians remains as persistent as ever, important legal precedents have been set, although largely disregarded by the government of Israel. More significantly, LM has ignited the civic imagination and has led to bold and creative initiatives, both to push for the accountability of states and non-state actors through legal and other means, and even to construct alternative models for nation building. Ultimately, the use of LM to address a seemingly intractable impasse has led to a fundamental reconsideration of the role of international law and the corresponding responsibilities of human rights advocates to address matters of state responsibility, most notably the role of corporations in international law violations. Drawing on theoretical reflections from earlier research on refugee rights advocacy in South Africa, this paper will argue that, despite a very different social and historical context, the potential of legal mobilization to hold governments accountable to protect human rights has common drivers. Moreover, the interplay between civic actors and government institutions to hold states accountable to international human rights obligations can be generally explained.
Period28 May 2015
Event titleAnnual Meeting of the Law and Society Association
Event typeOther
LocationSeattle, WA, USAShow on map