Deriving peremptory norms from sovereignty


In international law, the term "jus cogens" refers to norms that are considered peremptory in the sense that they are mandatory and do not admit derogation. Although the jus cogens concept has achieved widespread acceptance, international legal theory has yet to furnish a satisfying account of jus cogens's legal basis. We argue that peremptory norms are inextricably linked to the sovereign powers assumed by all states. The key to understanding international jus cogens lies in Immanuel Kant 's discussion of the innate right of children to their parents' care. Drawing on Kant 's account, our theory of jus cogens posits that states exercise sovereign authority as fiduciaries of the people subject to their power. An immanent feature of this state-subject fiduciary relationship is that the state must comply with jus cogens. The fiduciary theory clarifies jus cogens's content by generating discrete criteria for identifying peremptory norms



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Evan Fox-Decent
McGill University

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