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Handmaker, Jeff

Handmaker, Jeff

NIAS Theme Group

Assessing the Strategic Potential and Limits of Legal Mobilization

Research Question

How can civic actors mobilize law to ensure human rights accountability across different issues and political contexts? Why are human rights advocates able to secure a remedy in some cases and are unable to make a difference in others? And what are the practical implications for civic human rights advocates of a more grounded understanding of legal mobilization?

Project Description

Legal mobilization is a legitimate means for addressing rule of law deficits and governance problems more generally. In conversation with other colleagues, I conceptualize what legal mobilization is and explain its strategic potential through a generalizable, analytical lens of legal mobilization. This enables me to study different forms of legal / rights-based civic advocacy in comparative perspective. An additional element is the use of law as counterpower, acknowledging that in states that have experienced authoritarian tendencies, executive and legislative powers have become strongly intertwined, rendering the balance of powers in a trias politica as an ideal. In these circumstances, civic-led legal mobilization is a viable alternative to address a balance of powers deficit and to challenge state and corporate use of legal instrumentalism through lawfare.

Selected Publications

1) J.D. Handmaker (Ed.). (2009). Advocating for Accountability: Civic-State Interactions to Protect Refugees in South Africa Antwerpen: Intersentia.

2) J.D. Handmaker & T. Matthews (2019) ‘Analysing legal mobilisation’s potential to secure equal access to socioeconomic justice in South AfricaDevelopment Southern Africa, 36 (6): 889-904.

3) J.D. Handmaker & K. Arts (Ed.). (2019). Mobilising International Law for ‘Global Justice’ Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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