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Headshot of SJD student Sagnik Das

S.J.D. Candidate

sadas at



Testing the Limits: How International Courts Reshaped the Law and Discourse of Human Rights

The last decade or so has witnessed an explosion of academic work on the history of human rights, with most accounts focussing on how ‘ideas’ about human rights rose to prominence. Disagreements relating to their origin notwithstanding, scholars are near unanimous in recognising that human rights today dominate our vocabulary of moral conduct. Yet, in understanding how international human rights became such an all-encompassing discourse, existing scholarship has insufficiently engaged with the role and contribution of international courts and tribunals. My proposed thesis seeks to fill this void by focussing on how international adjudicative endeavours have played a pivotal role in the proliferation of human rights, through a fundamental reconceptualization of the ‘limits’ of international human rights law (IHRL). My working hypothesis is that despite being initially conceived of as a set of norms opposable only against the state during peacetime, IHRL today extends far beyond its original sphere of application owing principally to the judicial creativity of international courts.

My SJD project has three research objectives. First, to centralise the role of international adjudication in the contemporary history of human rights. Second, to trace how international courts have contributed to the rise of human rights discourse, by reshaping the ‘limits’ of IHRL, while attempting to understand their possible motivations in doing so. Finally, to explore what the consequences of such human rights proliferation are for the imaginative boundaries of international legal argument and the preservation of current politics.

Fields of Research and Supervisors

  • History and Political Economy of International Law with Professor Gabriella Blum, Harvard Law School, Principal Faculty Supervisor
  • International Adjudication and Human Rights with Professor Gerald Neuman, Harvard Law School
  • Law of Armed Conflict with Professor Naz Modirzadeh, Harvard Law School
  • Human Rights and the Global Economic Order with Professor Michael Waibel, University of Vienna

Additional Research Interests

  • International Investment Law
  • International Dispute Settlement
  • Comparative Constitutional Law
  • Legal Realism


  • Harvard Law School, S.J.D. Candidate 2021 – Present
  • Harvard Law School, LL.M. 2019
  • National Law University, Jodhpur, India, B.Sc. LL.B. (Hons.) 2016

Academic Appointments and Fellowships

  • Harvard Law School, 2019, Summer Academic Fellowship
  • Jindal Global Law School, 2020 – Present, Assistant Professor (on leave)

Representative Publications

Additional Information

  • Languages: English (fluent), Hindi (fluent), Bengali (native), French (basic)

Last Updated: July 14, 2021