Diversity on the International Bench


Ruth Bader Ginsburg
When I'm sometimes asked: 'When will there be enough (women on the Supreme Court)?' and my answer is: 'When there are nine.' People are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Project

International judicial bodies are gaining in independence from their creators and their mandates are expanding beyond traditional dispute resolution. The legitimacy of international judges has garnered particular attention. While criticism and proposals for reform for the international judiciary have been particularly centred on the need for such courts to be responsive to governments, little attention has been paid to the relevance of international courts for constituencies beyond the states that create them. International judges are increasingly playing an important role in dealing with rights conflicts between majorities and minorities, but the composition of international adjudicatory bodies rarely reflects the diversity of the claimants. This has raised concerns as to whether:

  • certain disadvantaged groups can have confidence in these mechanisms and see them as viable options when seeking justice
  • judges drawn from a narrow range of backgrounds will be able to relate to the reasoning or arguments invoked by certain diverse claimants.

It seems timely therefore to conduct a wide-ranging debate concerning the legitimacy and composition of the international bench. The research project “Diversity on the International Bench: Building Legitimacy for International Courts and Tribunals”, organized by Professors Neus Torbisco-Casals and Andrew Clapham at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy aims at exploring such issues. Our goals are to rethink critical issues of legitimacy and democracy in international adjudication; to provide some theoretical bases for a stronger reflection of societal diversity on the international bench; to explore the current lack of diversity and its impact; and to chart ways for institutional reform. We will pursue such objectives through a range of activities, including a number of academic workshops, a lecture series on diversity in the international judiciary, and an engaging set of podcasts featuring a range of judges.

The Lecture Series

Our public lecture series “Women’s Voices in the International Judiciary” brings to a public audience the experiences and views of women in the international judicial system. The series will run from 2021 to 2022.


On 19 and 20 November 2021, we organized the international workshop “Rethinking Representation on the International Bench: Democracy, Inclusion, and Legitimacy”.

Upcoming events