Hannah Birkenkötter

Hannah Birkenkötter, LL.M. (Cologne/Paris I), is currently a research fellow at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin within the Research Group “Overlapping Spheres of Authority and Interface Conflicts”. Hannah researches in public international law with a focus on international institutional law, in particular the United Nations; constitutional and international legal theory; and international human rights law. She defended her doctoral dissertation ’A concept at the very heart of the Organization’s mission’: Unpacking the Rule of Law at the United Nations at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in May 2020. During her doctoral studies, she was a Visiting Doctoral Researcher at New York University School of Law for the academic year 2016-2017 and held visiting positions at Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne (2016) and at Princeton University (2014). Her work has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Constitutional Law (with Christoph Möllers), the German Review on the United Nations and Global Constitutionalism (forthcoming). Hannah holds a double master’s degree in law from the Universities of Cologne (Germany) and Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne (France) and completed her state exams in Berlin, Germany. She gained practical experience through legal clerkships (Referendariat) inter alia with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Appeals Chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Hannah is a board member of the German United Nations Association and the Board of Trustees of Women Engage for a Common Future.

Research Project

Legal Dynamics Between UN Organs and the Rule of Law Beyond the State. The rule of law beyond the state and how it might constrain international organizations, in particular the United Nations, continues to be a contentious question of international law scholarship. In my doctoral research, I studied how the rule of law at the United Nations was conceptually shaped through a dynamic interplay between the UN’s inter-governmental policy organs and its Secretariat’s operational activities and argued that the UN Secretariat played an important role in this process through “executive interpretation” of the fuzzy term “rule of law”. In a next step, I want to understand this dynamic better by investigating the kinds of legal relationships that exist between different organs of the United Nations, and to what extent these legal relations impact how the UN carries out conceptual and normative work both at the global and local levels. I hypothesize that the United Nations as an organization has slowly evolved from being an inter-governmental standard-setting forum to a primarily bureaucracy-driven organization that is increasingly concerned with implementation of its manifold norms and standards. This research adds to existing research on the autonomy of international organizations by providing an in-depth investigation of internal legal relations within an organization, and how this might impact an international organization’s external action. At the same time, I would like to better understand whether and how the conceptualization of the rule of law within the United Nations system has impacted our thinking of the rule of law beyond the state: what, if any, is the relationship between the practice work that is done in the form of UN Rule of Law assistance and our theoretical treatment of this contested concept?