Sovereigns as Trustees of Humanity: On the Accountability of States to Foreign Stakeholders

Eyal Benvenisti

Appeared in: 107 American Journal of International Law 295 (2013)

The concept of sovereignty crystallized at a time when distances were large and self-sufficiency was the aspiration. Sovereignty coincided with notions of democracy, under the assumption of a perfect fit between the scope of sovereign authority and the affected stakeholders. This traditional view of sovereignty yields inefficient, inequitable and undemocratic consequences. This Article argues that in a densely populated and deeply integrated world, sovereignty should be conceptualized as a trusteeship not only toward a state’s own citizens, but also toward humanity at large.

 Accordingly, sovereigns should be required to take into account other-regarding considerations when forming national policies that may have effects beyond their national jurisdiction, even absent specific treaty obligations. After grounding the trustee sovereignty concept on three distinct bases – the right to democratic participation, human rights, and the sovereign’s power of exclusion – the Article identifies the minimal normative and procedural other-regarding obligations that arise from this concept and suggests that they are already embedded in several doctrines of international law that delimit the rights of sovereigns. The trustee sovereignty concept can explain the evolution of these doctrines and inspire the advent of new specific obligations.