Debating the future of strategic human rights litigation

Turning to domestic and international courts through strategic litigation has been central to global human rights activism for decades. It is a strategy that has been used to create long lasting social change in laws and public policies with the goal of advancing human rights. For some, litigation in the name of human rights has been a great success, making the human rights movement stronger by increasing its judicial power. For others, human rights litigation remains a 'hollow hope'. It brings minimalistic, slow and fragile gains at best or, at worst, gives rise to social and political backlash. The recent decay of the rule of law in many parts of the world further puts the role of litigation and courts as engines of human rights change into question.

Can strategic litigation help promote long lasting human rights change or is it merely a hindrance? Can it be done differently to increase effectiveness? What’s does the future hold for strategic litigation for human rights in an age of illiberal democracies and authoritarianism?
Join Wolfgang Kaleck founder and Secretary General of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Başak Çalı of Hertie School and James Goldston, Executive Director for Open Society Justice Initiative for a debate chaired by James A. Goldston, the executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, on the current and future challenges to strategic human rights litigation.


Wolfgang Kaleck is founder and Secretary General of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). He has served as General Secretary and Legal Director of the organization since its foundation and previously worked as a criminal law attorney at law firm Hummel.Kaleck.Rechtsanwälte, which he co-founded in 1991. In June 2017, Kaleck was awarded the honorary prize for services to human rights by the Bruno Kreisky Stiftung in special recognition of his legal work within ECCHR.

Başak Çalı is Professor of International Law at the Hertie School and Director of the Center for Global Public Law at Koç University, Istanbul. Her research interests are international law, human rights law, and the prospects of global public law in a multi-level legal order. Çalı is the Secretary General of the European Society of International Law, Editor-in-Chief of Oxford University Press United Nations Human Rights Case-Law Reports, a Fellow of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex and a Senior Research Fellow at the Pluricourts Centre at the University of Oslo. She has been a Council of Europe expert on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) since 2002. She has trained members of the judiciary and acted as a litigation advisor and trainer to non-governmental organisations and lawyers on European and comparative human rights law. She received her PhD in International Law from the University of Essex in 2003.


James A. Goldston is the executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which advances the rule of law and rights protection worldwide through advocacy, litigation, research, and the promotion of legal capacity. A leading practitioner of international human rights and criminal law, Goldston has litigated several groundbreaking cases before the European Court of Human Rights and United Nations treaty bodies, including on issues of counterterrorism, racial discrimination, and torture. Goldston previously served as coordinator of prosecutions and senior trial attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. He was also the legal director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre; director general for human rights of the Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and prosecutor in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he focused on organized crime.