Call for Papers: The Potential of Public Interest Litigation in International Law



Event Date: 

11/11/21 to 11/12/21

Location name: 

University of Exeter (covid permitting)


University of Exeter and University of Geneva

Call for Papers 

The Potential of Public Interest Litigation in International Law Workshop on 11-12 November 2021, University of Exeter 

International courts and tribunals play a pivotal role in the international legal order. They  provide for a peaceful alternative for the settlement of disputes, and they interpret and  uphold the law. However, the political and legal landscape has evolved drastically since  their creation - especially in the last thirty years. One aspect of this evolution is the  growing interest in using international courts in the public interest. But this comes with a  set of challenges.  

First, the scope and subject matter of the disputes brought before international courts and  tribunals are changing. Indeed, many international courts and tribunals were initially  designed to settle disputes arising between two states, with defined and attributable  harms. However, some issues raised (or that could be raised) before international courts 

today challenge our traditional understanding of international adjudication. This traditional  understanding of international disputes leaves out disputes over global commons (such  as the deep seabed and space) and global goods (such as health), or disputes where the  harm is done not to a single state, but to the international community at large (such as  climate change). New types of disputes are emerging, calling into question the role of  international courts within the international legal order. 

Second, these new disputes have an impact at the procedural level. Notably, many non state actors have taken increasing interest in responding to international issues  mentioned above, and other issues such as grave human rights violations or foreign direct  investment by pursuing litigation on the international stage, upon the grounds that such  matters are of the public interest. This has led to demands for procedural inclusion and  transparency before international courts and tribunals. Procedural concepts such as  those of jurisdiction and standing are questioned and reinterpreted in light of the push for 

public interest litigation. More generally, who should be allowed to access such courts,  and who should benefit from such litigation? 

Therefore, one of the current challenges faced by international courts and tribunals today  is their adaptation and response to such demands, which are increasing alongside  growing global crises. Against this background, the aim of this workshop is to address the  following questions: who is the ‘public’ in public interest litigation? To what degree can  international courts and tribunals respond to new needs in international society in order  to successfully address disputes based on the public interest? Can public interest  litigation before international courts and tribunals be a solution for today’s global  problems? Is there a potential for public interest litigation before such fora to be  developed? 

Guided by these research questions, Dr. Justine Bendel (University of Exeter) and Dr.  Yusra Suedi (University of Geneva) invite abstract submissions that address the potential  of public interest litigation in international law. All selected authors will be invited to  present their paper at a two-day workshop to be held at the University of Exeter, United  Kingdom on the 11 and 12 November 2021. We are delighted to announce that a keynote  speech will be delivered by Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue (University of Geneva) at  the opening of the workshop. The desired output is the publication of an edited collection of the best papers presented at the workshop, which is funded by the GenEx Joint Seed  Money Funding Scheme 2021. 

We welcome papers examining the potential of public interest litigation with regard to the  following non-exhaustive topics of international law, considering any relevant substantive  and procedural challenges: 

∙ Climate 

∙ Space 

∙ Deep seabed 

∙ Investment arbitration 

∙ Grave international crimes 

∙ Grave human rights violations 

∙ Global health 

∙ Environment 

∙ Cybersecurity


The workshop is open to both established and early-career scholars and practitioners,  including advanced PhD students.  

Interested participants should provide an abstract in Word format of no more than 500  words. Together with their abstracts, applicants should provide the following information:  first name/surname, affiliation, the title of the proposed paper and an email address.  

To submit an abstract please write to by 30 April 2021  with the heading ‘Abstract Submission Public Interest Litigation Workshop’. The criteria  for selection are originality and fit. Work already published is not eligible for submission.  Participants will be informed of the acceptance of their proposals by 10 May 2021 and be  required to submit a full paper by 31 October 2021. Papers should be no more than 8,000  words, including references. 

Workshop Format 

The organisers will hold a two-day workshop preferably in person, but if travelling is not  possible due to ongoing COVID restrictions, it will be held either via video conference or  in a hybrid format. Each paper will receive comments and feedback from other workshop  participants, who are expected to have read each other’s papers. 

For any further queries, please contact us at