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Excursion: A Brief Glance at the Political Reality of Human Rights Treatises


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Title: Excursion: A Brief Glance at the Political Reality of Human Rights Treatises

Excursion A Brief Glance at the Political
Reality of Human Rights Treatises
  • ER 11, Gov E-1040
  • Spring 2012

  • It is difficult to restrain myself from doing
    something to stop this attempt to exterminate a
    race, but I realize I am here as an Ambassador
    and must abide by the principles of
    non-interference with the internal affairs of
    another country.
  • Henry Morgenthau, US ambassador to Turkey, to the
    US secretary of state, August 11, 1915

Two struggles for human rights movement
  • First, create new language to articulate concerns
    of individuals in light of state power
  • Second, for this language to make a difference

Looks good on the first front
  • human rights language has replaced other
    languages of social change modernization theory
    dependency theory Marxism
  • human rights revolution activists no longer
    confined to vigils sit at able

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Some of the Bigger Ones
  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Commission of Jurists
  • International Federation of Human Rights
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Human Rights First
  • Lawyers Without Borders
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • Physicians for Human Rights

A Complicated World
  • NGOs
  • INGOs International NGO
  • IGOs Intergovernmental Organizations
  • QUANGOs quasi-NGOs
  • DONGOs donor-organized NGOs
  • AGOs anti governmental
  • GRINGOs government-regulated
  • BINGO business and industry NGOs
  • DODONGOs donor-dominated

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Alas not so good on the second
  • CIRI Human Rights Data Project
  • (Cingranelli/Richards)

Diffusion of human rights norms
  • networks among domestic/ transnational actors
  • put norm-violating states on international
    agenda remind liberal states of their identity
    as preservers of human rights (naming/ shaming)
  • empower and legitimate claims of domestic
    opposition against norm-violating governments

And Spiral effect
How treaties influence domestic politics
  • Change the national policy agenda
  • Enhance possibility of litigation
  • Mobilize groups (influence values increase
    chance of success)

Change the national policy agenda
  • Japan womens equal employment
  • Signed CEDAW, 1980 -- reforms were driven by
    desire to make a deadline
  • Litigation and amendment
  • in the 1990s ? improvements

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Helsinki Principles
  • I. Sovereign equality, respect for rights
    inherent in sovereignty
  • II. Refraining from the threat or use of force
  • III. Inviolability of frontiers
  • IV. Territorial integrity of States
  • V. Peaceful settlement of disputes
  • VI. Non-intervention in internal affairs
  • VII. Respect for human rights and fundamental
    freedoms, e.g. freedom of thought, conscience,
    religion or belief
  • VIII. Equal rights and self-determination of
  • IX. Co-operation among States
  • X. Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under
    international law

1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on
Security and Cooperation in Europe
  • John Lewis Gaddis, in "The Cold War A New
    History" (2005) Leonid Brezhnev had looked
    forward (.) to the publicity he would gain...
    when the Soviet public learned of the final
    settlement of the postwar boundaries for which
    they had sacrificed so much... Instead, the
    Helsinki Accords gradually became a manifesto of
    the dissident and liberal movement... The
    people who lived under these systems at least
    the more courageous could claim official
    permission to say what they thought."

Human rights norms contributing to
transformation of domestic practice
  • Dissidents responded by creating social movements
    to challenge repressive state practices
  • Polish and Czechoslovak government responded by
    denying they were violators
  • tacitly granted more pol. space to groups
    identified with Helsinki norms

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Berlin Wall
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November 9, 1989
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Statistical Skepticism
  • Large-scale analyses of causes of oppressions not
    done before 90s
  • Many governments sign on to norms, few implement
    them -- especially those governments most likely
    to abuse citizens
  • Suggest human rights laws/ organizations have
    only limited effects -- efforts at naming and
    shaming do not appear to work much better

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  • No matter how we measure repression or personal
    integrity rights, repressive states that allow
    murder, torture, kidnapping, and other cruel,
    inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of
    people just as commonly belong to the CCPR and
    the CAT outlawing these behaviors as governments
    that protect human rights reasonably well (p

  • Ratifying treaty can relieve pressure for change
    imposed by international actors, who may rely
    more heavily on positions than effects
  • reduction in pressure may lead country that
    ratifies to improve its practice less than it
    otherwise might

Endogeneity of treaty negotiations
  • Governments prone to make agreements that comport
    with activities they are willing to engage in
  • makes it hard to assess precisely what
    influenced government

Why divergence between quantitative and
qualitative approaches?
  • Different approaches make people notice different
    facets of reality
  • both needed quantitative studies need to be
    supplemented by country narratives to be sure
    they are on the right track and have explanatory
  • qualitative studies need to be supplemented by
    quantitative studies to get a better sense of
    what factors really were causally efficacious

Good News from Beth Simmons, Mobilizing for Human
Rights (2009)
  • Human rights treaty commitments make difference
    in countries that are undergoing democratic
    reforms anyway
  • If so, then especially many Latin-American
    countries and Eastern-European countries will
    really have been helped substantially in this way

Good News from Beth Simmons, Mobilizing for Human
Rights (2009)
  • Concluding the book Change has been gradual but
    encouragingly cumulative. As MLK jr. said The
    arc of history is long, but it bends towards
    justice. International human rights treaties
    have helped to nudge the human race in the right
    direction. (p 380)
  • Picture that emerges here is that respect for
    human rights is driven largely by large-scale
    social and political processes (democracy, peace)
    these are historical macro-phenomena not easily
    affected by policy-makers

  • This leaves warning from Hafner-Burton and
    Tsutsui that human rights treaties work only
    where there is some domestic resonance already
  • But that also means they do not work to change
    the behavior of the worst offenders

Case Study in the Mechanics of Human Rights
Regimes Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe
  • European Human Rights Regime

  • Why would any government, democratic or
    dictatorial, favor establishing an independent
    international authority, the sole purpose of
    which is to constrain domestic sovereignty?

Council of Europe Founding Members/Later Members
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Confusing same flag for EU
Human Rights
  • European Convention on Human Rights (1950)
  • Regionally binding treaty
  • Additional protocols signed by everybody
    eliminating the death penalty
  • European Court of Human Rights allows for
    individual complaints can now appeal directly
    to court

Regional Human Rights Treaties
  • European
  • Inter-American
  • African
  • South-East Asian

European Court of Human rights
  • Members have incorporated Convention into their
    own national legal orders
  • impact of case law is enormous
  • National judges, elected officials, and
    administrators under pressure to make Convention
    rights effective within national system

Major provider of international public law
  • Convention on Cybercrime
  • Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism
  • Conventions against Corruption and Organized
  • Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human
  • Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine

  • for the sake of restricting future governmental
    discretion and for the sake of reducing domestic
    political uncertainty
  • For which governments would this be of interest?
    -- primarily for governments that worry about
    future of respect for human rights/democracy

  • supported by the finding that new democracies all
    supported binding human rights commitments
    Austria, France, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, Germany
    (plus Belgium)
  • Opposing enforcement Greece, Turkey, Portugal,
    Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, UK,

  • countries where democracy was not firmly
    established found it advantageous to lock
    themselves in
  • established democracies were worried about
    preserving political idiosyncracies

Same phenomenon re. ICCPR
  • in early 50s, most stable modern democracies
    (e.g., US and UK) allied with authoritarian
    states like the Soviet Union, China, South
    Africa, and Iran, in opposition to the inclusion
    of compulsory, enforceable commitments
  • Alliance in favor included recently established
    democracies in continental Europe, Latin America,
    and Asia.
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