Norms, law and deviance: the international prohibition of torture

This dissertation by Max Lesch analyzes the connection between deviance and the development of international norms.

How has deviance from the international prohibition of torture affected the dynamics of the norms and laws of the prohibition? Norm research in International Relations and International Law has come to competing, if not contradictory, answers to this question oscillating between productive and destructive assessments of the effects of deviance. I argue that this is often due to a narrow focus on single instances of norm violations or due to the underlying concepts of norms and law itself, biased towards an over-emphasis on norm conformity or regularity of practice. Since the prohibition of torture builds a cornerstone of the broader human rights regime which indeed faces diverse challenges, a better understanding of the nexus of norms, law and deviance is crucial to foster the robustness of the prohibition. In my dissertation, I combine a constructionist perspective on deviance with a long-term perspective on norm dynamics to trace the effects of deviance on the prohibition of torture in four episodes: torture in the colonial war in the 1950s and 1960s, in Chile and Northern Ireland in the 1970s, in Israel in the 1990 and in and by the United States in the early 2000s. I follow a discourse analytical approach to reconstruct how states and international (legal) institutions construct deviance from the prohibition of torture, how states react to labels of deviance, how this, in turn, affects norm dynamics on a more formal level and how debates about deviance differ across time.