The New York Times today highlighted the story of Kunal Sah, who hopes to reunite his family by winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee. His parents were sent back to India last year after their asylum claim was denied, while he remained in Utah with his aunt and uncle. The article quotes Sah as saying: “What I want to do is win the nationals, and, if I do, then there is a chance that my mom and dad will have a better chance of coming back.”
Sah’s statement reminded me of the way in which Sheila Watt-Cloutier presented the Inuit’s petition to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights claiming that U.S. climate change policy violated their rights. Watt-Cloutier said: “A declaration from the commission may not enforceable, but it has great moral value. We intend the petition to educate and encourage the United States to join the community of nations in a global effort to combat climate change.”
As a complex of mixed informal/formal networks develop across spatio-temporal scales in debates over a range of substantive areas of international law, fundamental questions arise about what kind of international lawmaking narratives are most helpful. These two examples highlight the importance of interrogating what may be missed in stories that focus on formal nation-state consent, and in the process, reinforce the value of the burgeoning scholarly literature on “global” legal pluralism, which provides approaches to exploring the terrain beyond Westphalia.