Catherine Powell

Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy


International law and organizations, human rights and democracy, gender, comparative constitutional law, human rights and law reform

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Libya: A Multilateral Constitutional Moment?

Author: Catherine Powell
Social Science Research Network

The Libya intervention of 2011 marked the first time that the UN Security Council invoked the "responsibility to protect" principle (RtoP) to authorize use of force by UN member states. In this comment the author argues that the Security Council's invocation of RtoP in the midst of the Libyan crisis significantly deepens the broader, ongoing transformation in the international law system's approach to sovereignty and civilian protection.

See more in Libya; International Law


Catherine Powell is a fellow in the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also been a professor at Fordham Law School since 2003, where she teaches international law, human rights, constitutional law, and comparative constitutional law. She took a leave from academia from 2009 to 2012 to serve on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Policy Planning Staff (on gender, human rights, and international organizations) and on the National Security Staff as director for human rights in the Obama administration. After a stint as a full time visiting professor at Georgetown University School of Law from 2012 to 2013, she returned to the Fordham.

She is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, where she was an editor on the Yale Law Journal, and obtained a masters degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. After her graduate work, she was a post-graduate Ford Fellow in Teaching International Law at Harvard Law School and then clerked for Judge Leonard B. Sand on the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

She was founding director of both the Human Rights Institute and the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, where she was a clinical professor from 1998 to 2002, and was a visiting scholar at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law in Jerusalem, Israel from 2002 to 2003. In addition to previously serving on the Human Rights Watch board, she has been a consultant on national security and human rights matters for Center for American Progress and American Constitution Society. Her recent publications include Libya: A Multilateral Constitutional Moment? (American Journal of International Law, 2012) and A Missed Opportunity to Lead by Example (New York Times, "Room for Debate on Have Treaties Gone Out of Style?," 2012). She is currently writing on gender, development, and national security matters.