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Can transnational corporations ignore human rights as long as governments don't hold them accountable? If the UN is put in charge of a territory, is it bound by human rights law? Does that body of law apply to private security contractors who use torture to achieve their goals? Does the right to freedom of speech apply in a private shopping mall which has become the modern-day town centre? Under traditional approaches to human rights, non-State actors are beyond the direct reach of international human rights law.
They cannot be parties to the relevant treaties and so they are only bound to the extent that obligations accepted by States can be applied to them by governments. The result is that entities including Non-Governmental Organizations, international organizations such as the UN and the IMF, private security contractors, and transnational corportaions, along with many others, are generally considered not to be bound directly by human rights law. This situation threatens to make a mockery of much of the international system of accountability for human rights violations. As privatization, outsourcing, and downsizing place ever more public or governmental functions into the hands of private actors, the human rights regime must adapt if it is to maintain its relevance.
The contributors to this volume examine the different approaches that might be taken in order to ensure some degree of accountability. Making space in the legal regime to take account of the role of non-State actors is one of the biggest and most critical challenges facing international law today.