Shahab’s research falls within the broad genre of postcolonial and critical legal studies. The critical underpinning of his research challenges many of the inherent assumptions of international law and human rights. His research interests include history and theory of international law, Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), international human rights law, minority rights, and ethnicity, nationalism, and ethnic conflicts.
His monograph Ethnicity and International Law: Histories, Politics, and Practices (Cambridge University Press, 2016) is the first-ever systematic analysis of the role of ethnicity in the making of international law. While ethnicity remains a peripheral issue in international legal discourse and appears relevant only as a pejorative descriptive criterion, as in ‘ethnic conflicts’ and ‘ethnic minorities’, Ethnicity and International Law reversed this understanding of the relationship between ethnicity and international law by tracing the central role that ethnicity plays in the historical development of international law. Similarly, his second monograph Minorities and the Making of Postcolonial States in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2021), which has been completed under the Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship, offers a ground-breaking comprehensive theory of the postcolonial state in international law from minority perspectives. Offering an analysis of the geneses of ethno-nationalism in postcolonial states, the book argues that nationalist elites address the problem of ethno-nationalism in general and minorities in particular by identifying the ‘postcolonial state’ itself as an ‘ideology’. In this regard, the book also explains how international law plays a key role in the ideological function of the postcolonial state.
His edited volume Bangladesh and International Law (Routledge, 2021) is the first comprehensive analysis of international law from Global South perspectives with specific reference to Bangladesh. The book not only sheds new light on classical international law concepts, such as statehood, citizenship, and self-determination, but also covers more current issues including Rohingya refugees, climate change, sustainable development, readymade garment workers and crimes against humanity. Written by area specialists, the book explores how international law shaped Bangladesh state practice over the last five decades; how Bangladesh in turn contributed to the development of international law; and the manner in which international law is also used as a hegemonic tool for marginalising less powerful countries like Bangladesh. By analysing stories of an ambivalent relationship between international law and post-colonial states, the book exposes the duality of international law as both a problem-solving tool and as a language of hegemony. Despite its focus on Bangladesh, the book deals with the more general problem of post-colonial states’ problematic relationship with international law.
Shahab is an Editorial Board member of the Asian Journal of International Law (Cambridge Journals).
In recent years, Shahab has received a number of research grants including the Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (2018-2020), the British Academy Writing Workshops Grant (2018), Harvard Law School’s Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP) Research Grant (2015), Brown University’s Brown International Advanced Research Institute (BIARI) Grants (2016), and the Japan Foundation Fellowship (2016).
In addition to academic research, he is also actively involved in policy work. He was an expert panelist at 14th and 15th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council's Forum on Minority Issues in 2021 and 2022. He also worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangladesh as its National Consultant in 2011/12 to conduct compliance studies on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). These reports have been published by the National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh and used for policy reform recommendations to the government. He sits on the Advisory Board of the Tom Lantos Institute.
For Shahab’s research updates, follow him on Twitter @MShahabuddin77