Research project

Deep Impact through Soft Jurisprudence? The Contribution of United Nations Treaty Body Case Law to the Development of International Human Rights Law

About the project

The ‘Deep Impact through Soft Jurisprudence’ project examines the contributions of the caselaw of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies to the development of international human rights law.  How these Bodies interpret and apply United Nations human rights treaties is at the vanguard of international human rights law. Yet, they are poorly understood.

UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies (UNTBs) are, in effect, ‘soft courts’. Their decisions do not have expressly legal binding qualities. However, this is where international human rights law is progressively developed to address today’s major contemporary and emerging human rights challenges. They set standards for the implementation of all human rights, including the rights of refugees and undocumented migrants, gender equality, the rights of children, rights of persons with disabilities, racial discrimination, as well as human rights in the context of the climate crisis. Many states from all regions of the world have accepted the right to individual petition to UNTBs, despite this being optional.

The ‘Deep Impact through Soft Jurisprudence’ project addresses the gap in understanding UNTBs through two main strands of inquiry. First, the project aims to systematise knowledge about UNTB case law by identifying and analysing UN human rights law cases across all UN human rights treaties that have had a lasting impact on the interpretation of human rights law - so called 'leading cases’. In its second strand, the project aims to study the impact the UNTB case law has on the case law of international courts, tribunals and commissions.  

The project reflects one of the main strategic research themes of the Centre for Fundamental Rights – the role of international institutions in addressing current and future challenges to human rights protections. The study’s results will benefit both scholars and practitioners of human rights law, including judges, lawyers, advocates and researchers. This three-year (2023-2026) research project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). 


  • Project lead:

    Başak Çalı, Professor of International Law | Co-Director, Centre for Fundamental Rights.

  • Project researcher:

    Betül Durmuş, Postdoctoral Researcher, Centre for Fundamental Rights.

  • Collaborating researcher:

    Alexandre Skander Galand, Assistant Professor, International and European Law, Faculty of Law, Maastricht University.

Advisory body

Cathryn Costello, Professor of Fundamental Rights and Co-Director, Centre for Fundamental Rights, Hertie School, Berlin.

Naz Ghanea, Professor of International Human Rights Law and Director of the MSc in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, and UN Special Rapportuer on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Larry Helfer, Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law at Duke University and member of the UN Human Rights Committee.  

Mehrdad Payandeh, Chair for International Law, European Law and Public Law, Bucerius Law School and current member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  

Yuval Shany, Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former Chair and member of the UN Human Rights Committee.  

Martin Scheinin, British Academy Global Professor, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford and former member of the UN Human Rights Committee.  

Hélène Tigroudja, Professor of Public International Law, University of Aix-Marseille and member of the Human Rights Committee.

Alexandra Xanthaki, Professor of International Human Rights Law at Brunel University London and UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights.  

Andreas Zimmermann, Professor of International and European Law, University of Potsdam and former member of the UN Human Rights Committee.