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Professor Steven Wheatley
Professor of Law, member of the International Law Association International Research Committee on Rights of Indigenous People, member of the Minority Rights Group (International) Expert Panel on Minorities Litigation
Steven’s research interests lie in the area of international law. More specifically, he is interested in democracy and how the work of legitimate political authority is understood in international law.
Democracy and legitimate political authority in international law
In 2010, Steven’s book The Democratic Legitimacy of International Law was published. ‘The objective of this work is to restate the requirements of democratic legitimacy in terms of the deliberative ideal developed by Jürgen Habermas, and apply the understanding to the systems of global governance. The idea of democracy requires that the people decide, through democratic procedures, all policy issues that are politically decidable. But the state is not a voluntary association of free and equal citizens; it is a construct of international law, and subject to international law norms. Political self-determination takes places within a framework established by domestic and international public law. A compensatory form of democratic legitimacy for inter-state norms can be established through deliberative forms of diplomacy and a requirement of consent to international law norms, but the decline of the Westphalian political settlement means that the two-track model of democratic self-determination is no longer sufficient to explain the legitimacy and authority of law. The emergence of non-state sites for the production of global norms that regulate social, economic and political life within the state requires an evaluation of the concept of (international) law and the (legitimate) authority of non-state actors. Given that states retain a monopoly on the coercive enforcement of law and the primary responsibility for the guarantee of the public and private autonomy of citizens, the legitimacy and authority of the laws that regulate the conditions of social life should be evaluated by each democratic state. The construction of a multiverse of democratic visions of global governance by democratic states will have the practical consequence of democratising the international law order, providing democratic legitimacy for international law.’ (hartpub.co.uk)
Steven’s monograph Democracy, Minorities and International Law was published in December 2005. ‘This work explores the contribution that international law may make to the resolution of culture conflicts - political disputes between the members of different ethno-cultural groups - in democratic States. International law recognises that persons belonging to minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture and peoples have the right to self-determination without detailing how these principles are to be put into effect. The emergence of democracy as a legal obligation of States permits the international community to concern itself with both the procedure and substance of 'democratic' decisions concerning ethno-cultural groups. Democracy is not to be understood simply as majority rule. Cultural conflicts in democratic States must be resolved in a way that is either acceptable or defensible and defeasible to all citizens, including persons belonging to ethno-cultural minorities. Democracy, Minorities and International Law examines the implications of this recognition.’ (Cambridge.org) The book has been well received:
'Steven Wheatley's Democracy, Minorities and International Law constitutes an important and well-argued contribution to the on-going academic discussions on minorities, self-determination and democracy. It is particularly recommended for those who, without necessarily having much prior knowledge on the topic, would like to gain a thorough introduction.'
‘Overall, the book is admirable. It comprehensibly wades through an array of literature. It focuses on democracies -the very states we tend not to think about when dealing with cultural conflicts. And it is nearly exhaustive in its research such that one can easily trace the evolution of interpretations and implementations of broad principles, thus making the book perfect for students of all levels.’
Steven has also written a number of book chapters and journal articles on this area of research. The complete list can be found on Steven's research profile.
Steven is currently working on a paper entitled ‘The idea of legitimate political authority in the international law on the rights of Indigenous Peoples’. This paper demonstrates the way in which the idea of Sovereignty was developed in contradistinction to the constructed identities of the indigenous populations of the Americas and seeks to understand the emergent international law regime on indigenous peoples.
Shaping or influence on policy:
Steven is known for his work on democracy and was one of the group of international experts responsible for drafting the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights report on ‘Existing Commitments for Democratic Elections in OSCE Participating States.’
Cited in case law:
Steven’s work has been cited by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Endorois Welfare Council v Kenya.
Influencing the work of NGOs:
Steven is a member of the Minority Rights Group (International) Expert Panel on Minorities Litigation. He was lead consultant in drafting the MRG ‘shadow’ report on Bosnia and Herzegovina to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and in the application on Sejdic and Finci v Bosnia and Herzegovina before the European Court of Human Rights. He has also acted as an expert commentator on MRG country reports on the position of minorities in India and China.
Steven is a member of the International Law Association International Research Committee on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He has written two reports for the Committee on the issue of autonomy, self-government, and political participation rights.
Steven is an expert for the National Democratic Institute (a US based organization with close links to the Democratic Party that operates to promote democracy). He participated in a Roundtable on International Electoral Standards involving Members of the Ugandan Parliament and Electoral Commission (Kampala, 2004).
Impacts on public policy, law and services:
Steven participated in a research workshop on ‘Referendums and Deliberative Democracy’ (University of Edinburgh, 2009) which included members of the Scottish Executive.
Steven has been asked, on a number of occasions, to speak in a representative capacity for the Council of Europe; examples include acting as rapporteur to the plenary session chaired by a Minister in the Romanian Government at an international conference on ‘Participation of national minorities in public life: the role of consultative bodies’ (Braşov, 2006); and acting as the Council of Europe expert on minorities in conferences on the rights of minorities in Croatia (2001) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (2002) which included civil society actors as participants.
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