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New Publication: Jan Arno Hessbruegge, Human Rights and Personal Self-Defense in International Law, Oxford University Press (2017)

Submitted by on 21/02/2017 – 10:57 amNo Comment

About the author

Dr. Jan Arno Hessbruegge works for the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is also a visiting professor for international law at the U.N.-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. In the course of his career, he has worked as a legal advisor in the Executive Office of the High Commissioner, with the U.N. Commissions of Inquiry on Human Rights in Syria and North Korea, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons. Furthermore, he served in U.N. peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Haiti. He has written numerous scholarly works on international law and human rights. Dr. Hessbruegge holds a PhD in international law from the European University Viadrina.

About the book (Human Rights and Personal Self-Defense in International Law, Oxford University Press, 2017)

While an abundance of literature covers the right of states to defend themselves against external aggression, this is the first book dedicated to the right to personal self-defense in international law. Drawing on his extensive experience as a human rights practitioner and scholar, Dr. Hessbruegge sets out in careful detail the strict requirements that human rights impose on defensive force by law enforcement authorities, especially police killings in self-defense. The book also discusses the exceptional application of the right to personal self-defense in military-led operations, notably to contain violent civilians who do not directly participate in hostilities.

Human rights also establish parameters on how broad or narrow the laws can be drawn on self-defense between private persons. Setting out the prevailing international standards, the book critically examines the ongoing trend to excessively broaden self-defense laws. It also refutes the claim that there is a human right to possess firearms for self-defense purposes.

In extraordinary circumstances, the right to personal self-defence sharpens human rights and allows people to defend themselves against the state. Here the author establishes that international law gives individuals the right to forcibly resist human rights violations that pose a serious risk of significant and irreparable harm. At the same time, he calls into question prevailing state practice, which fails to recognize any collective right to organized armed resistance even when it constitutes the last resort to defend against genocide or other mass atrocities.

The book covers a number of topical issues from a perspective of international law,including

*             police using lethal force in self-defence,

*             military  relying on self-defense to use force against violent civilians not taking direct part in hostilities,

*             a (claimed) right to firearms as a means of self-defense,

*             “stand your ground” laws, home defender laws and other broad expansions of private self-defense,

*             the prohibition of targeted killings outside armed conflict for purposes of preemptive self-defense,

*             the impermissibility of torture even to defend life, and

*             rights of resistance against the state, including against mass atrocities.

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This book deals with a complex, interwoven set of topics usually considered to be distinct – the various guises of personal self-defense in international law – and does so in a coherent, rigorous and original way, with an overarching central argument. It makes a significant contribution to the existing literature, which currently has no other work of comparable rigour and systematic quality. The quality of the underlying research is excellent, and the coverage is comprehensive.

  • Marko Milanovic, Associate Professor of Law, The University of Nottingham School of Law

This fascinating book advances the crucial dialogue between municipal and international law, apt for the current age. Whilst recognising the demands of international law to reasonably curb the self-defence of police, it advocates the recognition of self-defence and resistance against intolerable state conduct. By throwing light on the common needs for limitations and proportionality, Hessbruegge challenges us all to delineate the boundaries of self-defence in a principled, yet pragmatic way.

  • The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, Past Justice of the High Court of Australia Formerly Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea

I know of no other publication that has studied in comparable depth and level of detail the use of lethal force by security forces in exercise of the right to self-defence and defence of others. This renders the book not only of academic interest, but also of remarkable practical relevance.

  • Professor Dr. Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg, Chair of International Law, Europe-University Viadrina
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