International and supranational organizations today are dedicated to the promotion of the rule of law and human rights, but they increasingly face problems in how to progress towards these purposes. The European Union, for instance, finds that its new member states are unable to deliver on the rule of law commitments made when they joined the EU. The United Nations struggle with rule of law and human rights in post-conflict states, for instance when the UN takes on the role of government, as in Kosovo, and in transnational trade contexts, where the UN tries to provide guidelines for how business actors should take responsibility for human rights protection. Part of the difficulty in realizing and assessing rule of law and human rights emanates from the divergence of views among actors regarding the overall purposes of the rule of law and human rights.
While policymakers, regulatory agencies and private actors tend to a functional approach in which the rule of law and human rights are viewed as an instrument for stimulating economic growth, peace and development, courts and other distinctively legal actors view the rule of law and human rights as intrinsically valuable norms. The hypothesis of this research project is that the functional and the normative approaches to rule of law and human rights can and should be integrated.
Methodologically, this requires a contextual approach, which builds on the historical, philosophical and social justifications of these ideas. The starting point for this research project is that an adequate understanding and viable development of the ideas of rule of law and human rights is only possible if they are regarded in their social context and in relation to their roots in historical political processes. Accordingly, the research project gives a unique focus to interdisciplinary cooperation by combining historical research with a socio-legal approach.