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Does Access to Justice Improve Countries’ Compliance with Human Rights Norms? – An Empirical Study

51 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2011 Last revised: 6 Feb 2015

Samuel P. Baumgartner

University of Akron

Date Written: August 15, 2011


When and why do countries comply with international law? This question has been the focus of much research on international law in the United States. It is a question that is particularly pertinent to the area of human rights, where, at first blush at least, nations appear to have little incentive to live up to international norms. Not until recently, however, have scholars undertaken the task to consider in depth the way in which international human rights law affects actual state practice. The result has been a number of theories to explain the behavior of states in the face of human rights obligations and international norms more generally. However, few of these theories have been tested empirically.

In this Article, I set out to test one hypothesis explaining conformance of nations with human rights norms derived from a number of these theories – that the more a country grants individuals access to its courts, the less likely that country is to violate international human rights norms. I do so with a systematic empirical analysis of an original dataset involving 90 countries over a period of ten years. The outcome is sobering: My results do support the hypothesis that access to court improves compliance with human rights norms. But the correlation is weaker and considerably less robust than expected, that is, the results change significantly depending on the statistical model used and the kinds of human rights involved. There is a silver lining, however. One component of access to court – the right to counsel – performs more impressively than the others. It is more robustly associated with better human rights practices, although this association, too, is weaker than expected.

Keywords: international law, international human rights, courts, procedure, empirical studies

Suggested Citation

Baumgartner, Samuel P., Does Access to Justice Improve Countries’ Compliance with Human Rights Norms? – An Empirical Study (August 15, 2011). Cornell International Law Journal, Vol. 44, 2011; U of Akron Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-10. Available at SSRN:

Samuel P. Baumgartner (Contact Author)

University of Akron ( email )

McDowell Law Center
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States

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