Justice Lost! The Failure of International Human Rights Law to Matter Where Needed Most

Journal of Peace Research, no. 4, 2007, pp. 407–425 vol. 44

20 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2015

See all articles by Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton

Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton

UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy

Kiyoteru Tsutsui

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: May 2007

Abstract

International human rights treaties have been ratified by many nation-states, including those ruled by repressive governments, raising hopes for better practices in many corners of the world. Evidence increasingly suggests, however, that human rights laws are most effective in stable or consolidating democracies or in states with strong civil society activism. If so, treaties may be failing to make a difference in those states most in need of reform – the world’s worst abusers – even though they have been the targets of the human rights regime from the very beginning. The authors address this question of compliance by focusing on the behavior of repressive states in particular. Through a series of cross-national analyses on the impact of two key human rights treaties, the article demonstrates that (1) governments, including repressive ones, frequently make legal commitments to human rights treaties, subscribing to recognized norms of protection and creating opportunities for socialization and capacity-building necessary for lasting reforms; (2) these commitments mostly have no effects on the world’s most terrible repressors even long into the future; (3) recent findings that treaty effectiveness is conditional on democracy and civil society do not explain the behavior of the world’s most abusive governments; and (4) realistic institutional reforms will probably not help to solve this problem."

Keywords: Human Rights, International relations, Treaties

Suggested Citation

Hafner-Burton, Emilie Marie and Tsutsui, Kiyoteru, Justice Lost! The Failure of International Human Rights Law to Matter Where Needed Most (May 2007). Journal of Peace Research, no. 4, 2007, pp. 407–425 vol. 44. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2701376

Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton (Contact Author)

UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

HOME PAGE: http://gps.ucsd.edu/ehafner/

Kiyoteru Tsutsui

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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