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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 can benefit from a more thorough study of 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, in significant part, to the judicial creativity of international courts.

This 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 preservation of regimes and marginalising alternate political possibilities. In this respect, this project is also about the political economy of international adjudication and how international adjudication generates (and shapes) international law and human rights.

Fields of Research and Supervisors

  • Law of Armed Conflict with Professor Gabriella Blum, Harvard Law School, Principal Faculty Supervisor
  • International Adjudication and Human Rights with Professor Gerald Neuman, Harvard Law School
  • Human Rights and the Global Economic Order with Professor Joel P. Trachtman, Fletcher School Tufts University
  • History and Political Economy of International Law with Professor Samuel Moyn, Yale University

Additional Research Interests

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


  • 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, 2022-23, Graduate Program Fellow, LL.M. Advisor
  • Harvard Law School, 2021-22, Graduate Program Fellow, LL.M. Advisor
  • 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 12, 2022