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Protecting Basic Legal Freedoms: International Legal Complexes, Accountability Devices, and the Deviant Case of China, byTerence C. Halliday, Shira Zilberstein and Wendy Espeland

  • Publication: Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 17:159-80.

11/15/2021, Terence Halliday, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 17:159-80.


With a focus on legal and other organizational actors beyond the state, this article seeks to expand the theory of conditions under which legal occupations will mobilize to fight for basic legal freedoms within states. It elaborates the line of scholarship on legal complexes and political liberalism within states since the 17th century. First, we catalog harms that international organizations (IOs) of many kinds seek to protect in the more than 190 states in the world. Second, we elaborate the concept of an international legal complex (ILC) as a collective actor in the global struggle for basic legal freedoms. We illustrate these two steps with new data on China drawn from a wider project.We show what harms mobilize the ILC, international human rights organizations (IHROs) and an international governmental organization, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). We focus on accountability devices as tools differentially deployed by the ILC, IOs, and UNHRC in their efforts to influence the institutionalization of basic legal freedoms, an open civil society, and a moderate state in China. The illustrative case of China provides a framework for research and theory on all other countries.

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