The Influence of History on States’ Compliance with Human Rights Obligations
56 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2015 Last revised: 6 May 2015
Date Written: May 5, 2015
There is considerable variation in countries’ respect for human rights. Scholars have tried to explain this variation on the basis of current conditions in countries—such as democracy and civil war—and events from the recent past, such as ratification of human rights treaties. This literature has ignored the influence that geographic factors and historical events may have on human rights performance. Drawing on the literature on economic development, which has shown that institutions, events, and conditions from the distant past heavily influence the rate of economic growth across countries today, we argue that scholars should study whether the same factors have influenced modern human rights performance. Our exploratory look at the data suggests that respect for human rights today may be related to the geographic location of affected populations centuries ago, the nature of the institutions that emerged at that time, and cultural traits that have been passed down from generation to generation. These preliminary results suggest that human rights scholars could make substantial progress by building on the work of development economics.
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