University of Chicago Legal Forum


International borders have become divisive issues in international and domestic politics. They have also become sites where the human rights of vulnerable persons have increasingly been documented as at risk. Policies of border hardening in the face of growing human mobility and other external threats—real and imagined—have made international borders focal sites of conflict at many levels. This Article argues that international law can reframe our understanding of bordering, leading to a more constructive approach to border management and greater respect for human rights. Borders are essentially institutions with the potential to settle coordination problems over territory. But of growing importance, they are also relational institutions that often have drastic effects on social and economic interactions. Their relational aspects require governance, for which international law has developed the law of neighborliness. In turn, the law of neighborliness requires, among other things, respect for mutually agreed covenants between sovereign states. Borders should not be presumed to pose inherent national security risks. Indeed, the presumption should be reversed: borders create zones where the need and obligation for friendly cooperation, including policies aimed at human rights protections, is at its highest.

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