Commitment to International Human Rights Treaties: The Role of Enforcement Mechanisms

66 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2012

See all articles by Yvonne Dutton

Yvonne Dutton

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: December 10, 2012


States continue to abuse human rights and commit mass atrocities even though for the past several decades they have overwhelmingly ratified a host of international human rights treaties. This Article seeks to explain this phenomenon and suggests that where treaty enforcement mechanisms are too weak for states to view them as a credible threat to their sovereignty, even states with the worst practices will regularly and readily commit to treaties designed to promote better human rights practices. I empirically test my credible threat theory against the explanatory power of other extant theories about treaty commitment by examining the relationship between treaty enforcement mechanisms and likelihood of ratification across a broad range of treaties. I include in my analysis the treaty creating the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) — a treaty which contains a strong enforcement mechanism in the form of an independent Prosecutor and the Court, which can punish violators.

The results of the statistical tests using data from 1966 to 2008 provide support for the credible threat theory. I find that a state’s human rights ratings do not influence ratification of international human rights treaties with the weakest enforcement mechanisms, such as those that only require the state to self-report its compliance. However, states with poorer records are significantly less likely to commit to the ICC treaty. The implication is that where enforcement mechanisms are strong, states may take their commitment more seriously and join only if they intend to comply. If we structure treaties with stronger enforcement mechanisms, perhaps fewer states will ratify, but at least when they do, they may be held to that commitment.

Suggested Citation

Dutton, Yvonne, Commitment to International Human Rights Treaties: The Role of Enforcement Mechanisms (December 10, 2012). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol 34:1. Available at SSRN:

Yvonne Dutton (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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